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  • Writer's pictureMatt Conway

12 Mighty Orphans: Review

12 Mighty Orphans Synopsis: During the Great Depression, Rusty Russell gives up a privileged position to coach football at an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas. Whipping his young players into shape, they soon become an inspiration to their city, state, and an entire nation.

12 Mighty Orphans lumbers in as the latest football drama to attempt a stirring blend of crowdpleasing entertainment from an impactful true story. While the film’s heart is consistently in the right place, director Ty Roberts only works to create a thankless concoction of generic sports movie contrivances. Every bit of rah-rah theatrics feels woefully false, leaving audiences with a hollow shell of what the premise could have achieved under better circumstances.

The concept certainly has vitality. Centered during The Great Depression’s crumbling economy, the orphan’s journey from disenfranchised youths to united ballplayers is pertinent both in its personal and social implications. However, 12 Mighty Orphans oddly overlooks its titular football stars.

Aside from Hardy Brown, who isn’t imbued with many nuances despite his future as an NFL player, the other elven orphans merge as an empty amalgam of boisterous teenagers. It never feels like these characters have a presence in their own narrative, with Kevin Meyer and Lane Garrison’s screenplay utilizing the figures as mere props for emotional sympathy.

Instead, a majority of the focus is dedicated to coach/father-figure Rusty Russell. Luke Wilson does an adequate job as the well-meaning figurehead, but even his character merely serves as an earnest everyman. The material just doesn’t dig deep enough with any of its conceits. Whether it’s half-baked characters or ham-fisted integration of the time period, the script’s lack of specificity defines the film in the simplest of lights. Every saccharine swing for emotion falters from clumsy heavy-handedness, with 12 Mighty Orphans never escaping the stench of after-school special melodrama.

Ty Roberts’ stagnate direction is similarly milquetoast. Attempts at an old-school veneer lack genuine artistry, cycling through melodramatic devices in attempts to clumsily crowdplease. Roberts consistently prevents viewers from engaging with the material, whether it’s in the form of over-the-top score choices or a generally hokey tonality (Wayne Knight’s abusive boss role would make mustache-twirling villains blush). Even the football scenes lack proper dynamism. Roberts sleepily frames the supposed high-steaks sequences without much thought for the sport’s explosive sensibility.

It’s too earnest to dismiss entirely, but 12 Mighty Orphans doesn’t possess enough craft or nuance to honor its inspiring true story.


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