The Mighty

1998, PG-13, 100 min. Directed by Peter Chelsom. Starring Sharon Stone, Kieran Culkin, Elden Henson, Gena Rowlands, Harry Dean Stanton, Gillian Anderson, James Gandolfini, Meat Loaf.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 23, 1998

British writer-director Peter Chelsom made magic with his first two movies, Hear My Song and Funny Bones, two of the best and most offbeat films of the Nineties. With his first American film, The Mighty, Chelsom has instead made an After-school Special. Granted, this time out Chelsom only directed, the screenplay is by Charles Leavitt, who adapted it from Rodman Philbrick's award-winning young-teen novel Freak the Mighty. Sentimental and quixotic, The Mighty is good family fare; it's especially tuned in to the narrative needs of those suffering (in the past or the present) those distinctively adolescent agonies of feeling like a social misfit. The story centers on the unlikely friendship between two miserable 14-year-olds: the big, sad lug named Max Kane (Henson) who lives with his grandparents (Rowlands and Stanton) in their basement ever since his dad, “Killer Kane,” went to prison; and the smart, little kid with large leg braces and crutches named Kevin Dillon (Culkin) who suffers from a degenerative disease called Morquio's Syndrome (the same disease that hobbles the kid in Simon Birch). Both boys are bullied by the neighborhood toughs, but together they find the skill and imagination to vanquish all enemies. Inspired by the spirit of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Kevin climbs aboard Max's shoulders and they commit acts of derring-do (some more believable than others). It's during these moments that Chelsom's whimsical touch reveals its hand as images of a medieval kingdom are transplanted to modern Cincinnati. Henson is warmly believable as the oversized kid (though not nearly as freakishly huge as the voiceover descriptions make him sound), but Culkin is hamstrung with too many precocious sick-kid cutenesses. As Kevin's mom, Stone turns in some nice, deglamorized work, though the script never calls for her to do anything that's not standard issue. As the grandparents, Gram and Grim, Rowlands and Stanton make an enjoyably American Gothic-type pair. Anderson, however, is saddled with an accent that sounds fresh out of an acting class workshop and a role that practically screams, “See, I can play characters other than Agent Dana Scully!” That point remains to be demonstrated. A subplot about Max's father has the feel of a trumped-up and extraneous climax. The Mighty is sure to play into some kind of childhood existentialism in which outcast-feeling kids are buoyed by such ideas as “a knight proves his worthiness through his deeds.” So too with movies. The Mighty is better-than-average family entertainment, but it falls short of inspiration and enchantment.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Peter Chelsom Films
The Space Between Us
There is life on Mars

Marjorie Baumgarten, Feb. 3, 2017

Hector and the Search for Happiness
Simon Pegg stars as a shrink trying to heal himself.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Oct. 3, 2014

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Nomadland
Story of America's itinerant population wanders too much

Feb. 19, 2021

The Reason I Jump
Poetic insight into autism, based on Naoki Higashida memoir

Jan. 8, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

The Mighty, Peter Chelsom, Sharon Stone, Kieran Culkin, Elden Henson, Gena Rowlands, Harry Dean Stanton, Gillian Anderson, James Gandolfini, Meat Loaf

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle