A documentary that follows the Manassas Tigers football team, a severely underfunded and underprivileged football team -- who were even hired out as a practice team for more successful schools -- as they reverse their fortunes, thanks to coach Bill Courtney.Written by
I should probably begin by apologizing-- calling this a "football movie" is a bit demeaning. Superficially, it's accurate, but the true subject of "Undefeated" is the education of inner-city kids through the competition of sports. If you value the lessons team sports can teach, or if you care about kids trying to pull themselves up from desperate circumstances, then I have to believe this is a film you want to see.
I had the privilege of seeing it a couple of months ago at the Chicago International Film Festival, with an audience that I'd wager was comprised mostly of people who didn't grow up in violent inner-city neighborhoods, and there were scenes in this film that reduced many of us in that audience to tears. These weren't tears of self-serving pity, either, but of admiration at what the Manassas Tigers accomplished in this wonder of a season. The film follows the storytelling tradition of the championship season, for the most part, but it's tough to criticize a documentary film for adherence to cliché. In fact, there are scenes in this that you'd dismiss as improbable in a fiction film, and scenes of such close personal observation that you wonder how the filmmakers got them on camera. These filmmakers had astonishing access to coach Bill Courtney and his players O.C. Brown, Montrail "Money" Brown, and the remarkable Chavis Daniels. You will get to know them so well over the course of the film that you might hope for a sequel. I know I do.
My only criticism of the film may not strike you as criticism at all-- in the Q&A session I attended with the filmmakers, they said they cut over an hour of footage to get the film's running time down for the theatrical market. As enthralled as I was with this film, I gladly would have watched another hour-- I wanted to meet more of these players and learn more about their lives. As such, at this length, the film doesn't quite rise to the level of "Hoop Dreams," as that film masterfully integrated its focus on sports into a larger narrative of inner-city life. But "Undefeated" comes awfully close, especially in one of the most moving scenes I've ever seen in a documentary, when a kid gets a piece of news that will change his life forever. You want to see this scene. You want to see this film.
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