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Gridiron mission

Historical football drama 12 Mighty Orphans makes wrong calls

Sony Pictures

Gridiron mission

The new film 12 Mighty Orphans recounts a Texas orphanage’s first glorious football season. The historically based movie spreads its dramatic capital thin, though, and it strains its PG-13 rating with dozens of expletives.

Set in the 1930s when Texans were reeling from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl drought, the story focuses on a dozen teen boys and four adults at the Masonic Home, an orphanage in Fort Worth. Frank Wynn (Wayne Knight) “keeps the hooligans in line” with a wooden paddle, and he personally profits from the orphanage’s cottage industries. Doc Hall (Martin Sheen) patches the boys up after Wynn’s beatings and nips liquor from a flask. The orphanage hires Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson), a math teacher and successful football coach, and his wife Juanita (Vinessa Shaw), also a teacher.

“We left everything for a place with nothing,” Juanita tells her husband.

“That’s exactly why we came,” Rusty replies.

Inspiring mission, but the film recounts it with football-playbook dispassion—just X’s and O’s, no hugs and kisses. For example, a potentially fun scene where the boys sneak out to a theater lasts barely a minute. The film relegates the orphanage girls to background furniture and fails to express warmth in any heroic character. Despite compelling material, 12 Mighty Orphans fumbles an opportunity to make viewers cheer.

Bob Brown

Bob is a movie reviewer for WORLD. He is a World Journalism Institute graduate and works as a math professor. Bob resides with his wife, Lisa, and five kids in Bel Air, Md.



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I dunno, man, I thought it was one of the best movies I've seen in awhile. I admit, I have a little emotional attachment to it since my aunt was a resident at the Masonic Home School that was depicted in the movie. Also, I know a couple of people who were extras in the movie. With appearances by Robert Duvall and Ron White, I think it's a very solid cast. You complained that the scene with the boys sneaking out was too short, but you probably would have complained if it was too long and emphasized them drinking and carousing. I just hope that you made it to the end where the credits listed what happened to all of the young men in real life. Coach Russell made a difference in quite a few lives, and that is meant to be the take-away.