Documentaries can be tricky to make.
Often times, the filmmaker set out to make a statement rather than document what they saw. They want to send a message whether it’s true or a slight fabrication. Also, funding isn’t always the easiest to secure. You have to make something great if you want anyone other than your mom to watch it. Lastly, documentaries can be boring. Not entirely, but after 30 minutes, your brain kinda gets the message and starts to back away.
I’m happy to say that “Undefeated” doesn’t fall into the traps of preachiness or boring its audience to tears (although tears will surely come at some point).
The subject of this Oscar-winning documentary is the Manasses high school football team in Memphis, TN. They are severely underfunded, out-manned and disrespected. If this weren’t a documentary, this would be the part where Goldie Hawn or The Rock would enter to turn the team around. Fortunately, the Manasses Tigers are coached by Bill Courtney, a local businessman who volunteers his time to work with the team.
As someone who grew up on the Memphis football scene and played against several of the teams depicted in the film, I can assure you the way that Manasses and West Tennessee football are each depicted in the film is pretty spot on. The film’s honesty, usually voiced through interviews with Coach Courtney, is refreshing and helps the audience get a full grasp on the school’s predicament.
Other than Courtney, the main subjects in this documentary are three players: O.C. Brown, Montrail “Money” Brown and Chavis Daniels.
Each of these guys bring an edge to the film that helps to paint a full picture of the team. O.C. is the kind-hearted big guy who is counting on football to get him to college (because his grades aren’t doing him ANY favors). Money studies hard and does well in school, while Chavis is just being released from prison when the film starts.
As a sports film, every box is checked over the span of 113 minutes. There are season-ending injuries, moments of victory and the despair of loss. What makes this different than, say “Remember the Titans,” is the previously-mentioned honesty that the film is covered in. Whether the team is at practice or in the classroom, the subjects of “Undefeated” have an uncanny ability to gnaw at your inner core.
For those who are worried about watching yet another football movie, the film is about so much more than football. The sport is merely a vehicle for telling the story of these kids who are learning what it means to be a man and to have character.
“Undefeated” is one of the most touching films I have seen in recent memory and I cannot sing its praises highly enough. If you happen to be somewhere that is playing this little film, you would hard-pressed to find a better film offering this time of year.
If you have any comments, feel free to leave them below. Happy viewing.