Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Peter Chelsom
Stars: Sharon Stone, Gena Rowlands, Harry Dean Stanton, James Gandolfini, Gillian Anderson, Meatloaf, Keiran Culkin, Elden Henson, Joe Perrino, Jennifer Lewis.

This moving and ultimately uplifting tale explores the unusual friendship that develops between two twelve year old outcasts. The Mighty is also an inspiring fable about the power of the imagination and friendship to heal scars, both emotional and physical. Based on the book by Rodman Philbrick, The Mighty is also free of the excessively saccharine and overtly manipulative narrative structure of the recent Simon Birch. While the two films share a number of themes, The Mighty is by far the warmer and more broadly appealing film. However, the later stages may prove a little too intense for younger children.

Max (Elden Henson) lives with his grandparents (Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton). Because of his hulking size he is the object of much fun at school. His new next door neighbour is Gwen (Sharon Stone), a single mother, and her crippled son Kevin (Keiran Culkin), who suffers from a degenerative wasting disease. Gwen has raised Kevin alone ever since his father ran out on them as soon as the doctor announced that the child was suffering from a genetic disorder. Despite their initial mistrust of each other, Max and Kevin quickly develop a strong friendship when they realise that they can each offer the other something.

Kevin teaches Max to read and helps him appreciate the world through the power of imagination. Max is afraid that he will turn out to be a vicious killer just like his father (James Gandolfini), but Kevin calms his fears. In return, Max provides Kevin with a pair of legs and helps him travel around the city, taking in the sights and enjoying activities that would normally be beyond his grasp. Eventually their friendship opens up new worlds of possibility for both of them, and together they take on the world like modern day counterparts of King Arthur and his legendary knights of the round table.

But events take a nasty turn when Max’s father suddenly reappears and takes his son away. The crippled Kevin charges to the rescue. These scenes may prove a little too intense and scary for some audiences.

British director Peter Chelsom (Funny Bones, etc) has a feeling for the offbeat and the unusual, but he handles the material with insight and compassion. A former director of commercials he brings a strong visual style to the movie without sacrificing the emotional content of Charles Leavitt’s screenplay. He injects a sense of realism into the movie through clever use of locations around Toronto and Cincinnati.

Stone is impressive in a smaller role, and delivers one of her better screen performances. The film boasts strong supporting performances from a truly scary Gandolfini, veterans Rowlands and Stanton, and The X Files‘ Gillian Anderson, playing against type in a more down beat role. However, it is the solid and likeable performances of Culkin and Henson that carry the film and provide its emotional punch. The pair, both of whom are also featured in the recent She’s All That, are enormously appealing, and deliver heartfelt and natural performances.

This mighty film is much better than the recent Simon Birch, as it explores how friendship and the power of the imagination help our two off beat heroes transcend their harsh environment. Its quaint flights of fancy prove surprisingly effective!

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