Review by Sean Boelman
Left to Right: (Back): Preston Porter, Woodrow Luttrell, Sampley Barinaga, Jacob Lofland. (Middle): Levi Dylan, Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen, Manuel Tapia, Austin Shook, Michael Gohlke. (Front): Slade Monroe, Jake Austin Walker, Bailey Roberts, Tyler Silva. Photo by Laura Wilson. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
Inspirational sports movies are a dime a dozen, but people keep making them because all it takes to please a crowd in this genre is a few good stars and an uplifting message. 12 Mighty Orphans delivers on both of those, telling its amazing true story in an entirely conventional but generally satisfying way.
The film follows a high school football coach who beats the odds to lead his team of inexperienced orphans to play in the state championship. The story hits all of the expected audience-friendly underdog beats, but for a genre full of movies that are generally indistinguishable from one another, audiences shouldn’t be surprised to find that this is so unoriginal.
Another common issue with sports movies that this falls victim to is an unnecessarily long length. With so many characters and storylines to explore, one would think that a nearly two-hour runtime would be warranted, but given that everything here is so familiar (even if you weren’t aware of the real-life people who inspired the film), it can start to feel a bit dull.
One of the most disappointing things about the script is that it is far more interested in the coach than his players. Although he certainly made some impressive contributions to the world of high school sports, general audiences will undoubtedly be much more interested in the rags-to-riches tales of the orphans.
Unfortunately, every time that the movie tries to introduce a subplot, it is never fully explored. One of the more powerful moments shows one of the players’s family drama, but doesn’t amount to much. Even the protagonist’s subplot about his struggles with PTSD fails to go anywhere particularly substantial.
Without a doubt, the best part of this film is the very talented cast. Luke Wilson’s performance is a highlight of the movie, bringing a much-needed dose of emotion to the film. The supporting cast is also stacked, with good turns from Martin Sheen and Robert Duvall, and a ridiculously hammy one from Wayne Knight.
The movie is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of execution. The production design and costuming do a good enough job of recreating Depression-era Texas, but the budget of the film obviously isn’t as high as most period pieces. And as for the football sequences, director Ty Roberts shot them in a straightforward way that isn’t very cinematic.
There have been plenty of sports movies to come out that are just like 12 Mighty Orphans, but the powerful true story has definite inspirational value. It’s the type of movie that will do well with its older target audience but be ignored by most others.
12 Mighty Orphans is now in theaters.