Undefeated | Documentary Review

by Chris Bridger
(London, England)

"Undefeated" Documentary Review

Undefeated is one of those productions which for a while after you've been lucky enough to watch it- you're speechless. Whether it has upset you, inspired you, educated you - or all three, it's impossible not to deeply reflect on what you've just seen. This documentary truly is one of a kind- an intimate yet seemingly objective portrayal of the 'Manassas Tigers' high school football team, a team looking to make the transition from whipping boys of their division, to the first side in their schools' 110-year history to win a play-off game. If American Football isn't your thing, don't be put off- in reality this could have been made about any number of sports and it wouldn't have made a difference, the real story is in its characters.

The backdrop to which this beautiful portrait is painted is of course, the players. Each of whom are very different, but are simply striving towards the same thing, to get out of a neighbourhood bereft of any form of opportunity upon graduating. The most humbling of these characters is O.C Brown, a a 6-foot-2, 300-pound lineman, whose Youtube highlight reel was actually what alerted the film-makers to the school itself in the first place. Brown cuts a forlorn figure, a powerhouse on the pitch, he is infact one of the more reserved players in the locker room. Focused in his approach, passionate in his execution of the role that he loves- it is his story that is the most touching. A shoe-in for many universities' offensive lines, his academic ability fails to live up to his athletic credentials. Sent to live with one of the assistant managers for extra tutoring so he can make the grade, you just pray that his dream can come true.

Montrail 'Money' Brown's story is a lot more difficult to describe without giving away large parts of the narrative, so i'll curtail the information provided- 'Money' is a model student, the world at his feet, he's a Captain of the team, yet is down to earth in his approach to his future. Too small to consider football as a career, he is instead focused on making it as a football coach. But a sequence of events midway through the film threaten to change his life forever. Last but not least, and arguably the Mr Hyde to the former's Doctor Jekyll is Chavis Daniels, a petulant linebacker who has only just been released from juvenile detention. No one of the three characters is more important than the other, and that's what makes this film so special, there are no favourites- only equals.

The fulcrum of the narrative is coach Bill Courtney, a man that dedicates his every waking hour to the football team- and doesn't get paid a dime for it. A former high school football coach turned lumber salesman, it's frankly impossible not to admire him. From the get go, you can tell that he cares so deeply about this team, about their future aspirations, about constructing some sort of life for them. A common theme that runs parallel to the storyline in this movie is the lack of male role-models for these kids. We're taught early on that every single one of the players has at least one parent in jail- it's then explained that Coach Courtney too lacked a male presence in his life when he was growing up. The interesting paradox to the storyline is that he has children of his own- so how will he care for them, whilst staying loyal to his players? Perhaps that's an unanswerable question, but say what you will about him- his passion and commitment to forming a better life for his team is irrefutable.

Without having seen this film, the storyline itself may seem cliched- volunteer coach lends a hand to help inner-city kids make a life for themselves. Striking similarities to the 'The Blindside' and 'Friday Night Lights' should be ignored- though it may be that simple on the surface, this should not act as a deterrent. Where as the narrative may be familiar- the style of film-making, the incredible access that the film-makers were allowed and the individual stories that you encounter throughout make this production a must-see. Ironically, this film was rejected from the Sundance film festival, but instead of giving up, the producers took the film to South by Southwest, in Austin, Texas. From here, it was picked up for distribution by the Weinstein Company. Months later, it won the Oscar for 'Best Documentary' feature.

Now that's what you call, Undefeated.

UNDEFEATED (Official Trailer)

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Oct 10, 2013
by: Faith

Thanks for your excellent review Chris. You reminded me that I've wanted to see this. Thanks to your review, you've given me the push to sit down and watch!

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