Stephen Rebello reviews the Oscar nominated documentary Undefeated.
Director: Daniel Lindsay, T.J. Martin MPAA Rating: PG-13 Studio: Five Smooth Stones Productions
The elements might sound all too familiar. A team of beaten-down, disenfranchised African-American ball players caught up in challenging personal lives face seemingly impossible odds with the help and guidance of a tough-love, ultra-dedicated, unconventional coach. We’ve seen the underdog story recycled again and again in real-life and fictionalized TV and movie offerings like Go Tigers!, Hoop Dreams, The Blind Side, Friday Night Lights on and on. Now comes Undefeated, a documentary from Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin about the players and coach of the poorly-funded and equipped Manassas High School football team, which in the school’s 110-year history, has yet to win one single play-off game.
The players, from a disadvantaged community include, Chavis Daniels, a fresh out of jail linebacker struggling with serious anger management issues, O.C. Brown, a mammoth, good-natured tackle with a promising pro future but failing grades, and Montrail “Money” Brown, an undersized right tackle with a heart and will that could transcend his limitations.
Their sixth-year volunteer coach, Bill Courtney, is a funny, folksy, can-do bear of a guy, a lumber yard owner and family man who gives every ounce of himself to guys on whom so many others have given up. Their goal? The dream of playing and winning their first play-off game. Haven’t we seen this all before? Sure we have. But not so fast! The unsentimental, painfully honest and powerfully moving Undefeated grabs us from the first few minutes and doesn’t let up. The inspiring, simple movie – chronological, no narration, straight ahead -- speaks directly to all of those who are suffering worst from the failed economic policies, the outsourcing and the financial manipulations of the past decade.
We come to care deeply about the Manassas team on and off the field when some players go off the rails and others succeed against the odds. With no magical happy ending promised, by the time of the play-off game and its aftermath, there won’t be a dry eye in the house. Suspenseful, beautifully shot and featuring a terrific musical score by Michael Brook, Miles Nielsen and Dan MacMahon, Undefeated isn’t a movie just for those with a love of the game. It’s also a movie for anyone attuned to the vast, largely untapped potential we all have to touch and transform each other’s lives.
About the Author
Playboy Contributing Editor Stephen Rebello has written many Playboy Interviews and 20 Questions features. He is the author of such books as the notorious Bad Movies We Love (with Edward Margulies) and Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, the latter of which has inspired a dramatic feature film set for production in 2012. His most recent Playboy Interviews include Josh Brolin and Cameron Diaz.