A phenomenally well-written and character-driven piece. This is director Joel Schumacher’s most beautifully crafted film since 2003’s Veronica Guerin (although, I do hold a special place in my heart for 2004’s The Phantom of the Opera and its bombastic finesse). This is also Schumacher’s most intricate script he has adapted for the screen in years. Based on 17-year old Nick McDonnell’s novel (think about that for a second… a 17 year old’s acclaimed novel put to screen), this is a fine example of a complex set of characters all heading in one direction: doom.
However like Fight Club and Pi, there are lessons to be learned here through a rare example of useful narration. In most cases, the narration can prove fatal to a film by mucking up the audience’s ability to feel through the story or the idea that the constant interior monologues lose sight of the rule, “actions speak louder than words.” This rule still applies because it does not merely tell what is going on, nor does it interfere with the film’s emotional progressions. In fact, it may enhance them, which is why the novel is an important element to consider here. Most of Kiefer Sutherland’s verses heard throughout the film feel like the verse of a novel; highlighting certain thoughts and creating emphasis on ideas. These characters are doing and thinking, but not everything they are thinking is said outloud or even expressed through action. A quiet thought from a character is expressed through the narration and points out how Chace Crawford’s character wishes he could jump from one NY rooftop to another, but he knows he will never do this. The audience might not understand this concept even through Schumacher’s lovely visuals of Crawford peering over rooftops, so the line is a neat form of help to understand the characters’ feelings.
The title, Twelve, is also interesting to ponder. It clearly refers to the drugs Crawford begins to handle that in fact only one other girl (played by a precocious Emily Meade) uses, but it may also refer to 12 important characters. There seems to be a lot more characters than that, but somehow the screenplay by Jordan Melamed seems to balance every character arc without losing track of each kid’s identity. This is also a triumphant example of casting. There are superb performances by the young cast of Chace Crawford, Emma Roberts, Emily Meade, Rory Culkin, Esti Ginzburg, Billy Magnussen, Philip Ettinger, Maxx Brawer, Jeremy Allen White, Nico Tortorella, a fun appearance of Ellen Barkin, and an intriguing performance by Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson. I believe that’s 12 characters. Painted in Joel Schumacher’s trademark neon palette (wonderful work by cinematographer Steven Fierberg), this is a film that will paint abstract memories in your head as well as remind you why life is worthy of good memories and not dark, unimportant ones.