‘12 Mighty Orphans’ Review: A Team Effort

Inspired by a true story of parentless teenagers whose tenacity on the gridiron raised spirits in the late 1930s, “12 Mighty Orphans” i...


Inspired by a true story of parentless teenagers whose tenacity on the gridiron raised spirits in the late 1930s, “12 Mighty Orphans” is a plodding football drama in which the characters talk to one another like folksy social workers. The condescending tone extends to a voice-over from Martin Sheen, who plays an orphanage physician. He brings viewers up to speed on American history (“It’s hard to remember which came first, the Dust Bowl, or the Great Depression”) and the movie’s message. The team’s coach, Sheen’s character narrates, “knew that football would inevitably bring self-respect to these boys.”

That coach, new to the Fort Worth, Texas, orphanage, is Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson), who bears the scars of World War I and of having grown up an orphan himself. Here, with the help of a sketch his daughter draws, he will pioneer the spread offense. His players will develop into a swift and strategic team, with Hardy Brown (Jake Austin Walker) becoming the most fearsome among them. Hardy also delivers one of the purplest halftime pep talks in memory.

If the film’s version of events can be believed, F.D.R. himself (Larry Pine) intervened to help the team. But any hope that the movie, directed by Ty Roberts, might leave room for nuance is dashed by two cartoonish villains — a scheming rival coach (Lane Garrison, also one of the screenwriters) and an authority figure (Wayne Knight) who embezzles money and hits the students with a paddle. “12 Mighty Orphans” displays a similar lack of restraint when manipulating its audience.

12 Mighty Orphans
Rated PG-13. Football violence and corporal punishment. Running time: 1 hour 58 minutes. In theaters.

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Newsrust - US Top News: ‘12 Mighty Orphans’ Review: A Team Effort
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