There’s an old-fashioned quality to Ty Roberts’ “12 Mighty Orphans,” yet another inspirational sports story “inspired by true events.”
Like all entries in this genre, its purpose is to move us by providing examples of exemplary behavior under dire circumstances in a sports context.
These movies are never really about sports, the deeds performed on the given field of play a metaphor for life.
And while I may sound cynical, nothing could be further from the truth.
Roberts and fellow screenwriters Lane Garrison and Kevin Meyer embrace the tropes and, with their veteran cast, render them with such sincerity that despite the story’s familiar nature, the film proves effective in inspiring and moving the viewer, never mocking them or seeming disingenuous.
The film begins in 1938 and focuses on the “Mighty Mites,” a high school football team from an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas.
Told in flashback, we witness how this group of thrown-away boys were rescued because a man who had walked in their shoes many years before believed in them.
Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson) has been brought to the Masonic Home in Fort Worth, along with his wife, Juanita (Vinessa Shaw), to teach, but also hopefully to inspire the boys by putting together a football team. Needless to say, he has his work cut out for him.
Himself an orphan, Russell’s also dealing with PTSD due to his experiences in World War I.
And there are several other major obstacles to overcome before he can field a squad.
None of the boys has shoes, while the institution doesn’t have a field. These hurdles are ultimately overcome, though the fact that Russell has only 12 boys at his disposal poses its own challenges.
Necessity being the mother of invention, the coach devises a radical approach to the game that catches their more-talented opponents off guard, allowing the Mites to make an improbable run toward the state championship.
That Russell is compassionate yet demanding only inspires the boys’ desire to succeed and please him.
Yes, the film is predictable, yet the veteran cast, which also includes Martin Sheen, Robert Duvall, Treat Williams and Wayne Knight, finds the proper tone to drive home the movie’s inspirational message, never overselling what they’re selling.
Wilson is particularly good in a role with a bit more heft than he’s accustomed to. Channeling Gary Cooper, he provides a sense of calm strength you believe the orphans will respond to while conveying the requisite sense of vulnerability during moments of doubt.
There are no surprises here, but that plays to the film’s advantage. After the turmoil of the last year and a half, we need the sort of assurance and inspiration the movie provides.
Inspiring but not preachy, Roberts’ film embraces the story’s old-fashioned nature, and the movie is better for it. More than any other recent release, “12 Mighty Orphans” gives families a good reason to venture back to theaters.