Film Review: “12 Mighty Orphans” (2021)

Cast of 12 Mighty Orphans. Photo by Laura Wilson. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.

There are too many good stories worth sharing on the big screen. Knowing that fact, can it be considered as a cliché just because we know how it may end or a similar story was told before? If that is the case, then we should have only one original story, copyrighted and never allowed another similar, feel-good story to be used. The question we should ask then is if that would be fair.

“12 Mighty Orphans” revolves around once an orphan, football coach Rusty Russell (a laudable performance from Luke Wilson), who leaves a privileged life and excellent life behind to coach football at an orphanage in Fort Worth, Texas. As soon as he enters the familiar environment, Rusty reserves his position as a gentle-hearted man with humility and compassion that surprises even the orphans who feel themselves, thanks to their superior Frank Wynn (always solid Wayne Knight), as disposable.

Set in 1938, during the Great Depression, the film with a montage that fast forwards two years later, when the mighty orphans, heavily exhausted and bleeding from the game enter their changeroom. It is then we are taken back two years in the past, as the remarkable story begins to unfold. Rusty’s wife Juanita (Vinessa Shaw) is not sure if her dear husband made the right choice. But even then, her support is highlighted to capture her impact on children, too.

“12 Mighty Orphans” offers a beautiful story with a big heart and soul. The historical sports drama provides insight into the young men’s lives and how they, with the help of their coach, supported by the kind Doc Hall (Martin Sheen), transition into worthy citizens of their country. As you watch, it quickly becomes obvious that, if not for Russell, every person at the orphanage would be used as laborers, doing jobs for others for a mere penny, living in despair, poverty and in the shadows.

That said, whether it is clichéd or not, director Ty Roberts is not messing up the given material. He cleverly navigates the story, builds up an excellent foundation for the story to grow in your heart even stronger. You will feel for them, care about them, and cry with them. It is a pure display of solidarity and human kindness we need to witness more often nowadays. This is why this film works. Because it’s based on a true story that reminds us we also can be like Rusty Russell and aim to be better if there is room for improvement.

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