6 Mar

Title: Undefeated
Year: 2012
Directors: Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin
Writer: –
Starring: Bill Courtney, O.C. Brown, Montrail ‘Money’ Brown, Chavis Daniels
MPAA Rating: PG-13, some language
Runtime: 113 min
IMDb Rating: 5.4
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Metacritic: 71

Undefeated won the Oscar for Best Documentary at this year’s Oscars, using its Weinstein-provided powers to win over the favorite Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory and my personal pick, Wim Wenders’ phenomenal Pina. I just saw this film though, and it really is quite good, depicting the Manassas Tigers’ 2009 football season in the inner-city of Memphis, presenting stories both on and off the field about that extraordinary season in which the team went on to win their first ever playoff game in the high school’s 110-year history. And that’s all thanks to Bill Courtney, the man that help turn the team’s fate around. Undefeated is a truly inspirational film with a helluva lot of heart, and what’s really awesome is the fact that it achieves all of that with sheer honest direct documentation of facts and doesn’t need manipulating heart-tugging techniques, it’s just a truly wonderful story.

It’s also one of those sports movies in which you don’t have to be a sports fan to really get into the story, you’ll get into the results of their matches nevertheless, and you’ll certainly get into the issues of class and race it touches upon so damn well (though the race topic could have been delved into a bit more, in my opinion), into the lives of these people, and I doubt you’ll be able to go through this film from start to finish with dry eyes. As we follow coach Bill Courtney and three of his players through the entirety of the 2009 season we get to know a lot of things about the team and about these guys, and even though they don’t go undefeated, it’s still a pretty remarkable story of pulling through, and the victories they pull off the court, against some of their personal demons, are just as impressive as the ones they pull off on the court.

What’s awesome is that this is a film that really shows us the value of sports, and how, when applied they right way, they really can change somebody’s life, they can bring forth purpose and a direction to somebody who maybe was a bit misguided prior to having it in his life. This is kind of like a real-life version of The Blind Side (and I know that overrated film was inspired by real events, but this one actually shows them as they happen), and seeing these kids, all of whom lacked a real father figure in their lives, pretty much every member of the team having a parent who has been in prison, really gets to you, and when you see Coach Bill telling a story of his own about his father, and how he felt when he saw his teammates after his own football games leaving with their proud dads while his was nowhere to be found, that’ll get to you even more, and establish the emotional connection you’ll have with this film and that he’ll have with his players.

Watching a team that was so used to losing badly, who actually went on to play out-of-town games against big schools only to be paid by them to be severely beaten, and then turning around is pretty great. It chronicles Mr. Courtney’s sixth season as head coach, when the seeds he’s been planting in the team start coming along nicely, when the guys who are seniors on the team are the ones that have been under his tutelage since the beginning. We follow him as well as three players, Chavis Daniels, the defensive back just out of juvy; O.C. Brown, the big right tackle who’s struggling with his studies which may hurt his college prospects; Montrail ‘Money’ Brown, the lineman who wants an education he can’t afford. We get involved in their stories, and in Mr. Courtney’s story about how his side-job (his real job is a hardwood company he owns) starts becoming his life, and how consumed he is about shaping the lives of his young disciples.

This film is incredible in its portrayal of Bill Courtney, the fact that there are a trio of player profiles serves only to heighten the one we’re getting of him, to show us the type of man he is, and how invested he is in getting his guys to a better life, to getting them a ticket out of their small town. These are all players who can be quite volatile, and he’s the figure trying to keep them grounded, to help them improve academically and as people. And it really is great to see how this works on both levels, both on the players and how they change because of their Coach, as well as on Mr. Courtney himself who’s helped just as much by their presence in his life to deal with stuff about his own past as a young man, and we also see how his dedication to his program and his players impacts his home life.

Undefeated is a really, really good documentary, and I’m glad it got such a nice box office boost this past weekend thanks to its Oscar win. Granted, I still think Pina should have won that award (not to mention the far more deserving, but non-nominated, Senna or Project Nim) but this film presents a really good story, the football Hoop Dreams if you will (though not as extraordinary as that docu), and front and center of it there’s a man doing his very best at trying to help make this world a better place, and that’s a story worth watching.

Grade: B+


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