It's no secret that I'm a sucker for a sentimental motion picture and 12 Mighty Orphans is about as unabashedly sentimental as they come. The film tells the true story of the Mighty Mites, a ragtag group of football players from a Fort Worth, Texas orphanage who went from playing without shoes, and even a football, to competing for the Texas state championships.
Can't you just hear the "Rah! Rah!?"
Yes. You can.
There's much to cheer for here despite director Ty Roberts' tendency to practically leap across that line from sentimental into downright corny and despite the fact that 12 Mighty Orphans plays even more mighty loose with the facts. However, you know and I know that just because a film is flawed it doesn't mean it's not entertaining.
12 Mighty Orphans is entertaining from beginning to end.
The film follows the inspirational sports flick formua to a capital T. There's a reason it's a formula and there's a reason we keep showing up to see them. After a year in quarantine and a post-traumatic hangover from it all, the truth is that a film like 12 Mighty Orphans is exactly what we need about now.
The film stars Luke Wilson as Rusty Russell, a respected football coach with a prestige gig who rather inexplicably offers himself up for the task of shapeshifting this group of young men into a football team despite without shoes, a football, a football field, or anything resembling awareness of the rules of football.
Of course, you know exactly where this is all going and it won't take you long to figure out what draws Coach Russell to the gig. You're not here for the original story. You're here for the inspiration.
You'll be inspired.
Wilson is actually a bit of a revelation here. I'm not going to pretend the Academy will be knocking down his door, but he takes a one-note coach and makes him a symphony. Wayne Knight does some memorable work here as the orphanage's director, while the always fabulous Martin Sheen makes us forget about Hoosiers for a couple hours as Doc Hall, a grizzled and rascally old coot of a coach with the obligatory drinking problem. Vinessa Shaw (Ray Donovan) isn't given a whole heck of a lot to do as Coach Russell's wife, though she makes the best of her screen time and you can't help but wish 12 Mighty Orphans had given her more to do.
The ensemble cast of young actors is strong across the board. Jake Austin Walker leaves the strongest impression as the troubled Hardy Brown and it'll fun watching the up-and-coming actor continue to grow. It's nice to see Treat Williams here along with comedian/actor Ron White.
David McFarland's lensing is warm and enveloping throughout. Mark Orton's original score taps into the film's emotional rhythms quite nicely and Juliana Hoffpauir deserves mention for her period-appropriate, character-setting costume work.
I'm not convinced that 12 Mighty Orphans needed to play as loose with its timelines as it does here, though screenwriters Ty Roberts, Lane Garrison, and Kevin Meyer do a nice job of maintaining the essence of Jim Dent's novel upon which the film is based.
Unabashedly sentimental and filled to its cinematic brim with inspiration, 12 Mighty Orphans is the kind of feel-good indie sports flick that deserves to find its audience and that benefits from a cast that gives it everything they've got. You've seen it all before, but 12 Mighty Orphans is so incredibly warm and winning that you won't mind at all seeing it again.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic