Reel Dad: ‘12 Mighty Orphans’ reminds us why we love film

We watch movies for many reasons. We hope to be entertained and enlightened, humored and humbled, informed and inspired. And the best of films make us want to learn more, do more and be more when we return to our real worlds from the reel adventures we experience.

The new film “12 Mighty Orphans” - a popular feature at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival - offers just about everything we look for at the movies. We care about the people, invest in the narrative, savor the way the story is told, and we hold on to the suspense until the story resolves. Plus, we learn about a moment in the past when people learn to reach beyond their selfish scenarios to show how much they care.

The movie takes us back to the 1930s when significant drought in the Southwest worsened the economic conditions that plunged the nation into the Depression. A football coach arrives at the Masonic Home in Fort Worth, Texas, to bring hope to a struggling group of orphaned teenagers. On paper, this tale of how one person could touch so many lives might sound overly sentimental. But the sure hands of director Ty Roberts frees the film to celebrate what people can achieve when given reasons to believe.

Yes, this is a movie about football. We have seen many movies that include some of the same sequences. Yes, there’s an uphill battle to the big games, negative forces hoping other teams will win, people in the Masonic Home who don’t like the idea of investing so much in a football team - for their own reasons - and demons the new coach must face as he tries to look beyond himself to be what his players need. All the good intentions this film brings to the screen, in fact, could overwhelm its impact. But Roberts shows such restraint in how he tells the story that he makes us believe situations that might not work in another filmmaker’s hands. He even makes the voice over narration - a bandaid directors often use to connect disjointed stories - work this time around.

What makes “12 Mighty Orphans” work is how Roberts and his screenwriters don’t try too hard to make us care for these people to overcome significant obstacles. The performances help. Luke Wilson reaches beyond the charisma he brings to any role to reveal the layers of anxiety the coach must address. Martin Sheen brings his patented warmth to a part that is tailor made for his unique screen presence and Robert Duvall, in a brief appearance, recalls the force he can be on screen. As strong as these well-known actors may be, though, the real stars of the film aren’t the names above the title. We care because the unknown young actors bring this team to life. Yes, we’ve seen many movies about high school football. But these actors make us believe they’re actually playing the game.

Film Summary: 12 Mighty Orphans

Content: High. This true story of how a football coach changes lives reminds us how powerful restrained storytelling can be on screen.

Entertainment: High. Thanks to the sensitive direction of Ty Roberts, the film captivates our hearts as it explores its characters.

Message: High. How Roberts freshens a genre as familiar as the football film gives us additional reason to watch this film.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to learn more about how people relate to each other, and react to their challenges, can be meaningful.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. The movie can prompt conversation between you and your children about how people can make a difference when they reach beyond themselves.

Every year, the Tribeca festival brings the power of storytelling to New York City. We’re fortunate this year’s event shines a spotlight on such a meaningful tale.

“12 Mighty Orphans” runs 1 hour and 58 minutes. The film is rated PG-13 for violence, language, some suggestive references, smoking and brief teen drinking. It opens in theaters on June 18.