The Mighty (1998)

D: Peter Chelsom
S: Sharon Stone, Gena Rowlands, Harry Dean Stanton

Moving and occasionally quirky drama from Funny Bones director Peter Chelsom, based upon Rodman Philbrick's novel "Freak the Mighty". Troubled but dim youth Elden Henson befriends handicapped but exceptionally intelligent Kieran Culkin, who teaches him to read using tales from King Arthur. The two form a symbiotic relationship and embark on several self-imposed 'quests', battling with a gang of local bullies for good measure. Of course things are inevitably bound for tragedy as Culkin's condition worsens and a spectre from Henson's past (his father; played by a sinister James Gandolfini) appears to threaten his newfound peace.

Despite the star billing for Sharon Stone and the capable support of veterans Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton (Gillian Anderson (The X-Files) and Meat Loaf also offer interesting support), this is a film centred on the two unique children and their perspective on the world. This accounts, to a certain extent, for the fantastical tone sometimes assumed by Chelsom (with occasional glimpses of Arthurian Knights like in The Fisher King), and a degree of emotional excess which accompanies Henson's maturation at the climax. Yet it is occasionally a tad contrived and stretches co-incidence too far to be completely convincing. Unlike the vaguely similar The Butcher Boy, the flights of fancy here suggest a healthy inner life which is actively used by the young characters to navigate the adult world, and the film's resolution is of the traditional 'growing up' and 'feel good' kind.

Yet The Mighty is an involving tale, largely thanks to the performances of its young leads, with Culkin particularly appealing with the lion's share of the wisecracks (some of them a tad adult even for a child of his presumed sophistication). Henson (seen under a variety of names in films including The Mighty Ducks) is nicely understated, and conveys a great deal of the character's inner tension and hidden strength with ease. The more experienced cast are solid enough, though star billed Stone is given comparatively little screen time and Anderson hams it up a bit.

Chelsom directs with style, though the script is more tightly controlled than in cult favourite Funny Bones, revealing a certain excess in his camerawork. He still provides an interesting take on what is, eventually, quite familiar material and holds the audience well.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.