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Undefeated - Movie Review - 2011

Building a Winning Team

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By

North Memphis, Tennessee's Manassas High School, an inner city school populated by kids whose teen years are plagued with difficulties, is used to losing. In the 110-year history of it's athletic program, the school's football team, the Tigers, had never won a playoff game. Then, in 2009, the team's phenomenally talented left tackle, the strong and speedy O.C. Brown, put hope on the horizon. In Undefeated, filmmakers Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin follow the team's season, showing how the possibility of a long-awaited win actually played out among members of the Tigers and their dedicated coach, Bill Courtney, and how it boosted the morale of Manassas High School students and attracted the attention of the surrounding community. It also underscores the importance that athletic prowess can have in creating opportunities for an inner city kid to achieve longer term goals in the future.

This is a story that has played on the screen many times before, in both nonfiction and narrative feature films. For example, the documentary 4th and Goal immediately springs to mind, as do The Blind Side and Friday Night Lights, both truth-based narrative features.

All of these films explore football as a field of achievement for kids who need fostering. And, like these popular films, Undefeated will rally favor and inspire because it captures several captivating personal stories. In particular, Undefeated is a close up and intimate look at the relationship that develops between coach Bill Courtney and his players, most especially with O.C. Brown. Coach Courtney is a remarkable man. He's a no nonsense kind of guy who says what's on his mind and insists that the players live up to his expectations. Boosting the kids' self esteem by demanding that they succeed, teaching them personal goals and team work, Courtney is an ideal role model for his players and for other adults who might choose to volunteer their time and energies to do some good for kids, especially those who are at risk. Courtney gives his all, even sacrificing his family and professional life by spending too much time away from his own kids and his job, while he's working nonstop to engage and motivate his football players on the field, in their classes and their personal lives.

The film is also about the kids on the team, and its emotional grit comes from their stories. There are three principal players, each struggling to dodge emotional and/or real bullets at home, and to keep up with their schoolwork so they can make the grades necessary for them to be eligible for college scholarships that will put them into a position to be, perhaps, recruited by professional football teams. They're basically very appealing kids, and you can't help but root for them on and off the football field.

Nonstop Action

. The film takes no time outs. Its action is nonstop fast forward, including some exciting football sequences, a lot of behind the scenes footage during practice and in the team's dressing room during games, and several adverse events in the lives of three key players -- including suspension from the team for lack of anger control, and a disabling injury. Suspense builds throughout the film, as the team progresses towards the playoffs.

Are They Undefeated?

No revelations here about whether the Tigers triumph in the playoffs or not, or about the future of the team and its individual players. That would spoil the film's entertainment value and it is substantial.

However, some audiences may notice that Undefeated has some thorny social implications, and they may be offended that these are never really addressed in the film. For one thing, it focuses on the achievements of a middle class suburban white guy when he takes on the challenge of uplifting the lives of downtrodden inner city black teenage football players. While there can be no doubt that Bill Courtney is sincere in his concerns and is dedicated to helping his players -- and, he's clearly in love with the game of football -- similar relationships shown in other films have been found offensive -- even if they are accurately represented.

Perhaps even more serious, if you're looking for the film's social implications, Undefeated accepts without question the premise that athletic prowess -- in football, basketball or any sport -- is an inner city kid's best shot for getting out of the ghetto. The film simply skirts the need to discuss finding equal opportunity ways for failed athletes and/or nonathletic kids to ba able to work their way out of poverty and towards better circumstances. Or, for that matter, to find ways to prevent inner city conditions from which kids must find a way to escape. Look to a film like Pressure Cooker for a more equal opportunity approach, where inner city kids are challenged and encouraged to develop skills they can use to build substantial careers that don't depend on size and running speed, or the luck of being able to avoid injury during play.

On the other hand, you could say that Undefeated reveals the realities of inner high school life as they are, and in a way that garners maximum empathy for kids in difficult circumstances and shows that they can, with determination and a little help from a football coach, find a way out.

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Film Details:

  • Title: Undefeated
  • Directors: Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin
  • U.S. Theatrical Release Date: February 10, 2012
  • Running Time: 113 mins.
  • Parental Guidance: Advisory for Parental Guidance for content
  • Location: North Memphis, Tennessee and elsewhere in the U.S.
  • Language: English
  • Production Country: USA
  • Production Company: Five Smooth Stones Productions
  • DVD Distribution Company: The Weinstein Company

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