Review: ’12 Mighty Orphans’ is a perfectly suitable underdog sports drama

Think about a sports drama. You know the one: where the main team is somehow disadvantaged in life, but they have a coach who believes in them even when they don’t believe in themselves. Where through the sport and the self-confidence that comes with playing well and winning, the kids turn their lives around and inspire the community around them. 12 Mighty Orphans is not the first time this story has been told, and it won’t be the last, but it’s a pretty good version of that story.

Set in the late 1930s, the story follows Luke Wilson as Rusty Russell, the coach in this story. He arrives at the Masonic Home & School to be a teacher and a football coach to the orphan boys who live there. The boys, of course, don’t take to him right away. They are used to being looked down on by society and abused by the teachers they already have –most notably Wayne Knight in a practically moustache-twirling appearance.

Center: Luke Wilson as Rusty Russell in 12 MIGHTY ORPHANS. Image by David McFarland. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

You already know the rest of the story. In this case, there’s a kindly older man –Martin Sheen as Doc Hall, the alcoholic widower that acts as a father figure to the boys– who helps get the boys on board. There’s the kids who take to the sport right away and those who don’t. The leader, the smart one, and the naturally talented one with a massive chip on his shoulder. Against the odds, they make it all the way to the championship.

Truth be told, there’s not that much to set this one apart. The pacing is rushed, the filmmakers practically create a montage of other montages as the team practices, but the production design is great, and both Wilson and Sheen are present and engaged in their roles.

Left to Right: Jacob Lofland as Snoggs, Martin Sheen as Doc Hall in 12 MIGHTY ORPHANS. Image by David McFarland. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

Some of this sounds like a complaint, but truth be told, I am a sucker for this kind of story. I love the underdog sports drama, and while there are definitely bad examples of them out there, this is not one of them. It’s also not an extraordinary example, but this kind of feel-good movie doesn’t have to be extraordinary to be heartwarming, and this film is heartwarming.

12 Mighty Orphans opens this Friday, August 6th in Vancouver, Toronto, and other major Canadian cities.


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