Director(s): Peter Chelsom
Writer(s): Charles Leavitt and Rodman Philbrick
Cast: Sharon Stone, Elden Henson, Kieran Culkin, Gena Rowlands, Harry Dean Stanton, Gillian Anderson, James Gandolfini, Joseph Perrino and Meat Loaf Aday
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Oct 9, 1998 - Wide
The Mighty is a triumphant family film. No, we’re not talking “family” as in a sappy remake of The Parent Trap or something featuring a big purple dinosaur. We’re talking “family” in the sense that people of all ages can go see this film, be entertained and inspired, and then leave the theater without fear of being assaulted by product tie-ins.
The Mighty is narrated by Max Kane (Elden Henson), a large slow-witted boy whose father, “Killer” Kane, is in jail for killing Max’s mother. He lives with his grandparents, Gram and Grim (Gena Rowlands, Harry Dean Stanton) and spends his days at school quietly taking the vicious taunts dealt to him by the local gang called the Doghouse Boys.
The gang soon gets a new target, Kevin Dillon, a boy struck with a disease that leaves him underdeveloped and in need of crutches and leg braces. Whereas Max takes the blows quietly, the diminutive Kevin is an intellectual giant whose mind and razor-wit stuns and angers the gang.
Kevin ends up being Max’s reading tutor and though they do not hit it off at first, Kevin introduces the larger boy to the fantasy and chivalry found in the stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. One day, in an effort to escape the Doghouse Boys, Max lifts Kevin onto his shoulders and a new knight is born: Freak the Mighty. With both brain and brawn, the pair set off on an adventure that guarantees to help them forget the problems they both face.
Kieran Culkin gives a remarkable performance as Kevin. His acting has a depth to it that exceeds his years and is far superior to anything we have seen from his more famous brother, Macaulay. If Kieran continues to work on his craft, he might end up with a page in film history, while his brother will be stuck with a footnote.
Elden Henson also shines in his role of Max and his character easily transforms from the quiet tormented giant to an imaginative young man. The story of this film is proof that children with good friends and a stimulated imagination can lift themselves far above their surroundings. Perhaps a little King Arthur in your life can be the dividing line between personal growth and delinquency.
Sharon Stone plays Kevin’s mother and the entertainment press is already saying she is hoping for an Oscar for this role. I’m not sure if I would go that far, but stripped of her sex symbol image you realize that she’s a good actress in need of more scripts like this one.
Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton give solid performances in their small roles as Max’s grandparents. When the screen time is this short, these two are like veteran utility players on a baseball team. You may only use them for an inning, but they will deliver the goods.
I haven’t fully decided whether Gillian Anderson delivers the goods in this film, as her character is quite overblown, but then again, it is refreshing to see her play something miles away from Scully.
Director Peter Chelsom deftly mixes the gritty street scenes with fantasy shots of knights on horses. He fully remembers that when a couple of kids are going along a ravine they actually become intrepid explorers in the jungle and not just hikers. He also realizes that the real magic here is not created by knights and damsels, but by the two young actors he has coached through this project.
See this film in the theater. Buy it on video for when your children have children. Suggest the library show it as a way to introduce children to the adventures of King Arthur or the Lord of the Rings.
You won’t be sorry.