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It covers familiar sports documentary territory, but Undefeated proves there are still powerful stories to be told on the high school gridiron.
All Critics (101)
| Top Critics (34)
| Fresh (97)
| Rotten (4)
| DVD (1)
All eyes are on the ball, while the future screams from the sidelines.
'Undefeated' is no 'Hoop Dreams', but it's sturdily built and worthwhile.
"Undefeated" doesn't have a deep penetration of poverty and race in its playbook, but it does have enough heart to make substantial forward progress.
It's a surprisingly moving, emotional film, even for those who (like me) know little of football; by its end, you just might be blinking away a few tears.
[A] winning documentary.
[A] stirring, emotional portrait of a high school football team in the impoverished neighborhood of North Memphis, Tenn.
The epitome of what a good sports documentary should be.
There can be power and comfort in cliché, and let's get this one out of the way: it's not about winning or losing, but how you play the game.
"Feel-good movie of the year" is rarely a label that applies to documentaries. Yet, the Oscar-nominated Undefeated, which follows one season of an impoverished inner-city Memphis high school football team, may turn out to be exactly that.
Undefeated is as magnificent as its subject.
I admit, I was not enthusiastic about reviewing another sports film, let alone football. Now I can say that I understand why people see football as a religion -- in a good way.
The true heart of the film is jovial, red-haired coach Bill. Not having had a father, he passionately gives every fiber of his soul to helping these African American boys, who are also missing fathers.
"Undefeated" is a highly involving documentary about the football program at Manassas High School in North Memphis, Tn. Once, it was so bad, they could hardly even win a single game, and were often paid to be the homecoming patsies for wealthier high schools. Then, along comes Bill Courtney, a local businessman, to volunteer as head coach and they start to turn things around. After a couple of years, they win four games in a season and sensing the potential a talented group of eighth graders decide to stick around instead of transferring. Four years later, of the players, even with academic problems O.C. has a chance to get an athletic scholarship to a university while Chavis has definite issues.
Unlike other sports documentaries, "Undefeated" is less interested in the team winning, although admittedly there is plenty of that. What the documentary does so well is getting to the issues lying just underneath the surface that often have more to do with class than with race. With these kids, it is not so much a lack of a father but a lack of any kind of social safety net for them, as there is actually an excellent case for high school sports made here. So, it is lucky for the school district that there are dedicated volunteers like Bill Courtney who go beyond the call of duty to mentor his players. The challenges he faces begin in his opening monologue where he gives a list of the players lost to the program and why.
A coach in a depressed Memphis school inspires his players to be better people and better football players.
This film is inspiring. Yes, it is full of aphorisms and simplistic half-truths, but in a tough world where truth is immutable, half-truths are good substitutes for the whole thing. It's hard to resist getting choked up when Coach Bill informs one of his players about a mysterious benefactor, and the documentary drills in concepts of character and integrity with a frequency that makes these words a happy life's song.
Overall, while I can't drink the Kool-Aid without my eyes open, there's a lot to like, and the documentary effectively presents a man worth admiring in a world that is anything but admirable.
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