’12 Mighty Orphans’ Blu-Ray Review – Historical Luke Wilson Underdog Football Drama Is Predictably Executed

The art of the sports movie is somewhat tricky. Sure, you can easily appease the mainstream with well-worn tropes, but you have to deliver something truly great if you want to make a lasting cinematic impact. Films such as A League Of Their Own and Rocky put equal care in the filmmaking aspect of their story as they did their narrative execution, providing characters you could become invested in which would allow for you to carry their victories and defeats as if they were your own. The new film 12 Mighty Orphans does not appear to be striving to achieve such cinematic heights, unfortunately. Directed without flair by Ty Roberts from a screenplay he wrote with Lane Garrison and Kevin Meyer, this historical football drama takes its aspirational tone and mistakes that for having a unique identity. The project is not particularly bad, it is just so bland that you are more likely to forget about it than dislike it. The film is one which you can predict every beat as soon as you read the plot description, and it does nothing to deviate from the script in your head. It is the type of movie that is destined to be a big hit with your parents. 

This true-life story takes place as the country is emerging from The Great Depression and the need for hope is at an all-time high. President Roosevelt has implemented the New Deal, but the prosperity of tomorrow is not guaranteed for any Americans, especially those already cast aside by society. The Masonic Home and School of Texas is a perfect microcosm of these forgotten souls. The orphans who live here are punished just because they do not have families and are taken advantage of by some of the mustache-twirling authority figures at the school. This changes upon the arrival of teacher, coach, and war hero Rusty Russell (Luke Wilson, Stargirl) and his wife Juanita (Vinessa Shaw, Hocus Pocus). Rusty actually believes in these kids, and, through his encouragement on and off the field, he aims to shape them into the great men he knows they can be. Obstacles come in the form of some laughably cliche villains (an opposing coach in dark sunglasses and a bumbling, greedy Wayne Knight), but this is the type of story where you know these are only minor speed bumps. 

The appeal of these stories is getting invested in the characters, and this film does not always succeed on that front. Wilson plays a mostly straightforward, decent character, but he is given some texture in the form of PTSD lingering from the war. He is the paternalistic heart of this film, and considering the film is so wholesome, it is appreciated that the character never turns to religious overtones to make the story even more trite. Martin Sheen is a pleasant sight as Doc Hall, the only other staff member looking out for these boys while battling alcoholism. While this sounds heavy, Doc provides the majority of the humor in the film with his off-color remarks. Where the film falters somewhat is in the orphans themselves. Many of these boys barely even get a chance to speak, and those that do are given very little character development. All of the edges have been sanded off and the true impact being an orphan has on them is mostly glossed over. The exception to this is Hardy Brown (Jake Austin Walker), the tempestuous young man who transforms into the team MVP against all of the odds. 

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Everything about this film feels so standard issue. There are copious montages that show the team slowly getting comfortable with their new coach and turning into the skilled force they were always capable of being. The football sequences are nothing groundbreaking either, but narratively it does try to make the point that Russell invented the “spread defense” that is so widely embraced today. There are jokes sprinkled throughout between the players and with the Doc character, but nothing is ever so gut-busting that you experience more than a few quick chuckles. The film is not interested in diving deep into any of these characters, so everything feels very cautious and surface level until the end of its unnecessary two-hour runtime. The performances are fine and the production design does a capable job of transporting you to this era of history, but the script offers nothing new. At the end of the day, there are more unpleasant ways to spend a couple of hours, but it is not a film that will stick with you after you have finished watching it. 

Video Quality

12 Mighty Orphans comes to Blu-Ray in a 1080p presentation that is quite fetching. This is a capably shot film with many expansive shots of dry, open plains where you can see an incredible amount of detail. There are numerous sequences featuring vegetation and trees in the background that provide a nice reference to showcase the depth at play in the image. Some shots are not razor sharp, but most hold up well enough. The film plays very well with the earth tones on display from the greens of the foliage to the stark browns of the dusty fields and bland interiors of the orphanage where most of the film takes place. This is a film with a warm color palette that is reproduced perfectly here with a pleasing radiance. The white levels are handled beautifully, along with the solid blacks that do not appear to suffer from any compression artifacts. There are no obvious signs of any noise or other such digital nuisances. The skin tones look very detailed and natural all around. This presentation should please most audience members. 

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Audio Quality

The Blu-Ray disc comes with a DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track that conjures a very specific mood that transports you to this time in history. This is a very subdued film, but there are moments that give the track more of an intense workout such as the action on the field and cheers from the crowd. The score is showcased beautifully here with a gently enveloping use of the surround speakers. The dialogue comes through crystal clear without ever being overpowered by the environmental effects or the score. The sound design is precisely executed with all of the sounds positioned just right in the mix. The environmental effects create a really nice soundscape of weather noises and animal sounds. This is not an action-heavy film, so the activity in the low end is reserved for a few key moments. This is a lovely sounding release that brings the movie to life in a really splendid way. 

Special Features

  • Deleted Scenes: Fourteen minutes of unused material is provided here mostly involving drama off the field. There are some interesting scenes worth checking out if you enjoyed the movie. 


Final Thoughts

12 Mighty Orphans is the definition of a standard-issue sports movie. You follow the traditional arc of unruly misfits to unlikely inspirational figures with numerous montages and healthy doses of folksy charm sprinkled throughout. The performances are decent, but the script the actors are working with do not give them enough to do. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has released a Blu-Ray featuring a solid A/V presentation and a substantial amount of extra footage in the special features. You get what you expect from this feature, nothing more, nothing less. 

12 Mighty Orphans is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray, DVD and Digital. 

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.


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