Sony Pictures Classics
To anyone that knows me, I am quite an unabashed sports fan, and the only thing that mirrors that same emotion with sports for me is movies. I love a good old-fashioned sports film. There have been many iconic sports films throughout the years, and while your favorite sports team may let you down, a good sports film never will.
This year’s Tribeca Film Festival offers a new entry into the genre with Ty Robert’s 12 Mighty Orphans, a film that, while adding little innovation to the genre, provides sentimental and emotional moments that will quench your sports-film thirst.
12 Mighty Orphans is based on Jim Dent’s novel and follows Rusty Russell, a football coach with quite the pedigree and an already prestigious coaching position who decides to leave that position and challenge and mold a group of young orphans into a football team. However, this group of boys is without the proper equipment, shoes, a football, a football field, or any concept of playing the game.
If the film’s premise sounds formulaic, it is, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Ty Roberts crafts a film that, while easy to see what’s coming, will still take you on an emotional ride that mirrors the inspirational sports film formula at its finest.
12 Mighty Orphans offers up a solid, well-rounded cast that all steps up to the plate. Let’s start with Luke Wilson, whose performance will more than likely not come up in any future awards chatter, but it still must be discussed. Wilson is sensational in his portrayal of Rusty Russell. Wilson takes the usual one-note coach role and brings to life a multi-layered performance that is more than just a football team’s head coach; Rusty is trying to better these young men as individuals, and Wilson executes the role to a T.
Audiences should not ignore the supporting players. While Wayne Knight plays a cliche sports film villain, his role as the corrupt orphanage’s director is a delight as he twirls his mustache to the most disdained character in the film. Along with Knight, the iconic Martin Sheen does a fine job as Doc Hall. Sheen plays it subtle here and offers up an emotional side story of a former coach battling alcoholism.
If there are faults with the film is it oversteps its limit on cheese. As mentioned before, sports films are meant to take cinephiles on an emotional ride. Still, there are moments within the film that Ty Robert’s balance from inspirational to corny comes into question. Along with that, Roberts, Lane Garrison, and Kevin Meyer’s adapted screenplay is loose with the facts and timelines and feels like an unpurposeful choice.
Despite the flaws, 12 Mighty Orphans is a welcomed addition to the sports film genre. It is a feel-good indie film that is sure to find its audience with its performances and overall message of hope.