Review: 12 Mighty Orphans

12 Mighty Orphans is a new sports-drama epic from director Ty Roberts which is released theatrically by Sony Pictures Classics and stars Luke Wilson, Martin Sheen, Vinessa Shaw, Wayne Knight, Jake Austin Walker and Robert Duvall.

The film tells the true story of the Mighty Mites, the football team of a Fort Worth orphanage who, during the Great Depression, went from playing without shoes—or even a football—to playing for the Texas state championships. Over the course of their winning season these underdogs and their resilient spirit became an inspiration to their city, state, and an entire nation in need of a rebound, even catching the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The architect of their success was Rusty Russell, a legendary high school coach who shocked his colleagues by giving up a privileged position so he could teach and coach at an orphanage. Few knew Rusty’s secret: that he himself was an orphan. Recognising that his scrawny players couldn’t beat the other teams with brawn, Rusty developed innovative strategies that would come to define modern football.

This is an all-american, all-heart underdog story that boasts a stellar cast; Luke Wilson plays his Rusty Russel fairly straight without overdoing the accent or charecter whilst still being instantly charming and electric on screen. He is supported by a newly found right-hand man in the form of the orphanage’s Doc Hall played by Martin Sheen who provides an equally dependable and charming performance with a hint of a deeper charecter story at play which develops through the film and this team up is at the core of the story with plenty of highs and lows to pull at the heartstrings.

There are further delights in the cast beyond this duo however; Wayne Knight in particular provides an unexpected career-best performance as the despicable home manager Frank Wynn. There is also a brief yet delightful cameo role for Robert Duvall as Mason Hawk (a fictional invention to represent that supported the real-life team)


Roberts has achieved a charming, stand-out & feel-good film that has the potential to sit among the best sports underdog stories. My main issue with the film however was the over-reliance on expository and fast-cut montage sequences (admittedly somewhat of a trope of sports movies) which is a device he uses multiple times to fill in characters back story but really took me out of it and drags the film more towards a sentimentalist ‘lifetime’ TV movie rather than the gripping and heartfelt drama at it’s core.


The film is currently only available in select theaters after a debut at Tribeca Film Festival.

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