Mighty, The

The Mighty directed by Peter Chelsom and based on the novel by Rodman
Philbrick, is at least an improvement annoying Simon Birch of last month,
though it uses essentially the same device: doomed crippled kid who is
nevertheless smart as a whip (I have known a lot of crippled kids, by the way,
and never noticed that intelligence was commoner among them than it is among any
other segment of society) teams up with an outcast “normal” kid who is, in one
way or another, a kind of emotional cripple. Together they have heartwarming
adventures and teach us something about life and love and loss. These are Bill
Bennett movies: OK if you like that kind of preachiness and uplift (though
Birch is anti-Christian), but not to my mind very impressive examples of
cinematic art.

The difference between them is that The Mighty‘s uplift at least comes
from the heart, where Simon Birch‘s is mere cynical manipulation. Its
characters are more likable and even more believable (though still not
very believable), though its story is almost equally far-fetched. The
adventures of the little crippled boy, Kevin “Freak” Dillon (Kieran Culkin), and
the big dumb classmate, Max Kane (Elden Henson), who carries him around on his
shoulders, are just as goofy, most of them, and even dangerous. In the climactic
one, little Kevin takes on a giant ex-con (James Gandolfini) with nothing but a
squirt gun filled with soap, vinegar and pepper instead of calling the police to
tell them what he knows. But at least he is given some reason for it in his
enthusiasm for the legends of the Round Table and the idea of going on quests to
protect the weak and right wrongs.

The story is narrated, also as in SB by the surviving, “normal” kid,
Max, who is a butt for the other children, not only because of his size and his
stupidity but also because his father killed his mother. “Killer Kane, Killer
Kane,” chant terrifying “Blade” and his Doghouse Boys, “Had a son who had no
brain.” Max lives with his grandparents whom he calls Gram (Gena Rowlands) and
Grim (Harry Dean Stanton) and has no friends. When the Freak moves in next door
with his fetching single mother (“My father was a magician,” Freak tells Max:
“He heard the words ‘birth defect’ and he disappeared”), Gwen Dillon (Sharon
Stone), he helps to teach him to read. Max is at first as wary of him as he is
of the other children, but Freak tells him to “think of it as a partnership: you
need a brain and I need legs. And the Wizard of Oz doesn’t live in South

If such witty remarks are just a little flat, at least they are not
irritatingly smart-alecky like Simon Birch’s, but the plot is way too
melodramatic and might almost suggest that Chelsom is making fun of the boys. I
like the idea of big, dumb Max being civilized by exposure to Kevin’s romantic
ideas of chivalry, as well as exorcizing the ghost of the murderer-father.
“That’s not who I am and that’s not who you are either,” the Freak convinces
him. “A knight proves his words by his deeds.” But Mr Gandolfini’s villain and
his accomplices, Loretta Lee (Gillian Anderson) and her boyfriend Iggy (Meat
Loaf), are mere caricatures and impossible to take seriously. The tear-jerking
ending is also too predictable. But if you’re in need of a movie to take the
kiddies to, especially young boys, you could do a lot worse.

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