Who needs another soccer underdog story? We do. We all do that.
Based on the book by Jim Dent and Lane Garrison and the true events of the Mighty Mites, Ty Roberts, co-writer and director of the film, “12 Mighty Orphans,” brings us a heartfelt story about what it means to be family and support each other, regardless of the adversity.
Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson) is set in a barren and impoverished area near Fort Worth, Texas in 1938 with his wife and daughter reluctantly in tow. Always on the positive side, they look to the huge institution of the Masonic Home for Orphans, which will be their new residence.
When you meet Frank Wynn (Wayne Knight), the facility’s director, and the sociable family doctor Doc Hall (Martin Sheen), it is clear that there is trouble.
Russell, called to the orphanage by Doc, will not only teach math and science, but he will also coach a non-existent soccer team.
The family’s rat-infested and ramshackle quarters are a far cry from their former Pennsylvania residence, but Russell’s dedication and immediate devotion cannot be swayed even in the midst of putting together a completely inexperienced, often non-compliant and rude team.
Wynn, an abusive authoritarian with ulterior motives to run this house, is despicable with his tentacles of greed, especially when trying to thwart the success of Russell and the boys.
Russell has his own story and demons to deal with as he strives to connect with and help these forgotten “second class citizens”. A World War I veteran suffering from PTSD, we are seeing flashbacks in his life and witnessing the additional atrocities that in many ways help him reach out to these rejected children.
Along with time, love, and a common goal, the boys become a family with Doc and Russell as surrogate fathers, even if the odds are against them.
Sony’s “12 Mighty Orphans” starts with a stereotypical Disney touch. Told by Sheen, it’s an ode to storytelling of years gone by, but this also helps to accentuate the era of the story.
Russell at first seems too good to be true; he is kind, compassionate, and understanding to an exponential degree. Additionally, Wynn is a caricature of a malefactor who can almost be seen giggling when he does his insidious act.
Thankfully, those exaggerated depictions and performances are quickly muted and a more realistic and heartfelt story finds its way to the fore.
The story takes us through the 1938 football season when the team had no shoes, no equipment and was beaten up in their first game. Credited for starting the first “spread” formation in football, Russell always goes up on heights and finds a way to work with what he has. He thinks outside the box to help the boys capture something they have long forgotten: hope.
Victory after victory makes them an impressive team, but there is always someone out there who wants to defeat them. It’s a classic story, but we’re fully invested in it as we sit on the edges of our seats for the finale.
With every “Cinderella story” we know the bow. There are trials and tribulations, but in the end good triumphs over bad. This story may not be any different, but the obstacles you face certainly are.
Co-authors Dent and Kevin Meyer also take the time and care to give each of the characters a story and backstory with unique personalities. Paying attention to these details connects us as viewers with every element of the film. The bottom line and ending aren’t what you’d expect, which makes it a more dramatic story.
Wilson’s restrained performance gives Russell’s character a deeper and more complex personality. It’s a delicate balance, but Wilson seems directly tied to his role.
Sheen finds the right path too, because he too could have gone too far in one direction or another to give Doc Hall a more comedic and less believable performance, but he doesn’t. We are dear to him and we hope that he will overcome his tragedies too.
This is the story of the boys, the orphans and each of them, perfectly cast to represent the real youth, allows us to really get to know them.
Jake Austin Walker (Hardy Brown) takes the lead in this group, the most troubled character in the bunch, and evokes incredible empathy as we watch him wrestle with his inner demons. Jacob Lofland (Snoggs), Slade Monroe (Wheatie), Sampley Barinaga (Chicken), and Woodrow Luttrell (Leon Pickett) are all standout characters in this group of connected underdogs.
“12 Mighty Orphans” is a familiar story with its own unique elements that remind us of the definition of family in its truest form. The film has many lessons that can never be repeated too often and that make everyone happy and hopeful.
While the film is off to a rocky start, the path is quickly paved to offer us a fun and entertaining storyline. Be sure to stick with the credits to get to know the real “kids” and find out what became of them.
Reel Talk Rating: 3 Stars