Much of what makes a good movie is character and back stories, which I might or might not get back to. Anyway, the first twenty minutes of Ty Roberts’ 12 Mighty Orphans has its fictionalized protagonist Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson) trying to explain football through science metaphors. This movie presents a version of 1930s Texas, nay, the world, where it’s a good idea for a football coach to double as anything. Also, I can’t believe Rusty Russell is a real name. But it is the name of a real man who uprooted himself and his wife (Vinessa Shaw) to teach at an orphanage. The camera slowly pans around to show the titular orphans.
Rusty is trying to turn these orphans into a football team. Soon enough, they’re ready for actual games. These high school aged boys are not as important as the men or the world trying to help or hinder them, or at least that’s what 12 Mighty Orphans shows. One of those influences is the orphanage’s doctor/football defense coach, Doc Hall (Martin Sheen). The movie shows him as someone who always has a flask in hand. He seems functional though, or at least that’s what happens when veteran actors take subtler approaches to their characters.
In fairness to 12 Mighty Orphans, it does get a few things right about inspirational sports movies. It personally made me happy to watch these boys succeed. They did, after all, work hard, and it’s always fascinating to watch strategy play out. It also gives a sense of the place where these young characters are growing up. One of those characters is Hardy Brown (Jake Austin Walker), the team’s rough diamond. It’s too bad, and I guess we’re getting to the character parts now, that the movie presents Rusty as a near perfect character. His flaw is his slight toughness, which is a job interview flaw.
The characterizations of the boys are less deep. There’s the one who stammers and the one who’s physically awkward. And the one who’s there to make the movie look less white than it already is. Some of these men have futures as character actors, at least. The only one of the boys who get a back story is a fictional version of Hardy Brown. The real Hardy eventually makes it into football’s history books. This fictional version is shorter than some of the boys. But it takes a while to convince the viewers that casting him as a high school child was a good idea.
Lane Garrison and Kevin Meyer’s script is, essentially, about America, or at least an idea of it. An idea where bullies (Wayne Knight) get their due. One that FDR (Larry Pine) worked hard for Americans to envision. It shows things like posters of football players that these boys have to go up against. These posters, by the way, would fit in within an issue of Life Magazine that one can buy at a vintage bookstore. That visual comes with a score that fit in with a historical series that Tom Hanks would have produced. Americana is difficult to make nowadays and the way this movie presents it feels dated.
- Rated: PG-13
- Genre: History, Sport
- Release Date: 8/6/2021
- Directed by: Ty Roberts
- Starring: Jake Austin Walker, Larry Pine, Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight
- Produced by: Angelique De Luca, Brinton Bryan, Houston Hill, Michael de Luca, Ty Roberts
- Written by: Kevin Meyer, Lane Garrison, Ty Roberts
- Studio: 12 Productions, Greenbelt Films, Michael De Luca Productions, Santa Rita Film Co.