Review by Michael Jacobson
Directors: Daniel Lindsay, T.
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: February 19, 2013
“Starting right guard, shot...no longer in school. Starting linebacker, shot...no longer in school. Two players fighting right in front of the coach when he's trying to make things work out. Starting center, arrested for shooting somebody in the face with a BB gun. Most coaches, that would pretty much be a career's worth of crap to deal with.
I think that sums up the last two weeks for me.”
When most people think of Memphis, they think of the blues, country, and a thriving music scene. What many may not know is that it has become one of the most impoverished areas of the south. One person even remarks that folks from Tennessee refer to Memphis as the biggest city in Mississippi. They don't even claim it anymore.
In this world, in one inner city school, there was a volunteer football coach named Bill Courtney trying to make a difference. He runs a lumber mill, and has a family of his own, but he's spent most of the last six years attempting to put some inner city kids on the path to a better future through a high school football program.
Manassas High School's team, the Tigers, has been around for more than a century and never made it to the playoffs. Many of the students have below average grades. The rest of the world? Not paying much attention.
So bad are the Tigers that the school actually makes money by being the team other high schools pay to play in order to pad their records. But Courtney sees more in these young men than most do, and sees football in a different way. It's not a game that builds character, he explains...it's a game that reveals it.
Some of his current crop of players include O. C., who is unusually big and fast for his age. There is Montrail, aka “Money”, a player with a lot of heart who is attempting to overcome a lot of adversity. There is Chavis, a kid with a hot temper who has been in trouble most of his life, and frequently seems to be the spark that could ignite chaos in the program Courtney is trying to build.
In one scene, the kids are asked who has a parent who graduated from college. Very few hands. Then they are asked who has a relative who has been to jail. All hands. Many of these kids are destined to repeat the cycle. Pro football may be a pipe dream, but Courtney realizes that it could be the key to some of them reaching college and having a chance at a different life. One thing they all have in common: they all dream of getting out of Memphis.
Undefeated won the Oscar for best documentary for 2011, and it follows the coach and these players over the course of a season. Nobody gives them a chance to succeed with such a lengthy track record of failure.
This is a moving and enlightening portrait of some remarkable people doing whatever they can do to achieve success. The title doesn't refer to their season, but their spirit.
I don't want to give away how the year unfolds, but there are some key issues at hand. Money has a knee injury that might not only derail him for his senior year, but take away his shot at college ball (and the college education that goes with it). Chavis would rather fight his battles his own way as a loner. And O. C., who has the talent to go further, can't seem to make the grades necessary for any school to seriously take a look at him.
The coach, with an unwavering philosophy but revealing moments of doubt, does all he can, including getting an assistant coach to take O. C. in just so he can have an after-school tutor...no tutor will come to the dangerous inner city of Memphis.
This film takes a look at one of our country's biggest problems. We know education can lead young people out of poverty, yet education seems to be one factor that is sadly lacking in the lives of many underprivileged kids. Books have been written, money spent, ideas put into place, laws passed, but in the end, the long gap of achievement between those who have and those who have not never seems to close much.
Does this film offer answers? No...the question is too complex and too universal, and this story focuses only on a small faction. But it does show how much difference one person can make by putting everything else aside and devoting himself to an ideal. Maybe one person can't change the world, but one person can make a life or two better...and that's a start.
I was very impressed with this high definition transfer from Anchor Bay. I wasn't expecting much, being that it is a shot-on-the-fly documentary, but the colors and clarity are incredible throughout...the directors must have used digital video. The results are quite striking.
Apart from some games, there aren't a lot of demands made on surround sound here, but again, the quality of the dialogue is clean and clear, and helps deliver the point home.
The extras include a commentary with the directors, some deleted scenes, a brief making-of featurette (featuring Sean Combs, who served as executive producer), and the original black and white trailer.
Undefeated is a potent, moving documentary that doesn't pretend all is now right with the world, but shows how small differences can add up. Recommended.