SXSW 2011 Review: UNDEFEATED
A documentary about what is America's favorite sport may not have the biggest universal appeal amongst movie lovers, many of whom aren't necessarily sports fans, but to label UNDEFEATED as simply a "sports movie" doesn't do it justice. Like many documentaries, this is a very uplifting and heartfelt film about people, and how sometimes life just writes a good, compelling story, one that directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin were lucky enough to capture for a truly amazing story.
The film is about the Manassas Tigers, a high school football team in Memphis, Tennessee. The school is in a part of Memphis that has been ravaged by unemployment due to the troubled economy, and most of the kids in the film come from broken homes and, for the most part, are left to their own devices while growing up. These days, even in the NFL, football coaches have a lot to deal with during their careers. Players getting arrested, sometimes shot, just trouble and lawlessness in general, and volunteer Tigers coach Bill Courtney has dealt with all of that and more in the two weeks leading up to the current football season.
Among his roster, there are three boys in particular that the film focuses on. O.C. Brown, a 6'3" 300 lb. offensive lineman with a true heart of gold that, off the football field, couldn't hurt a fly. On the field however, once he turns the corner on a pull block, he's an unstoppable force and the closest thing a human being can be to resembling a freight train. Montrail "Money" Brown may be the smartest kid on the team. Small in stature, but big on heart. Then there is Chavis Daniels, a troubled junior who is rejoining the team after spending 15 months in a youth penitentiary and has trouble controlling his anger. The biggest focus, though, is on Coach Bill Courtney, a volunteer who truly cares about the kids and is a more inspiring figure than any coach from almost every other fictional football movie.
Bill Courtney has been a volunteer coach for 6 years and he looks at these kids and sees a little bit of himself, as he also grew up without a father, the way most of the kids had to grow up. There are a lot of people who believe that football can used as a tool to help build character. He believes that football reveals character, and that is the message he tries to instill in his kids. His time with the football team isn't without its sacrifices, though. He understands the emotional toll that the time he spends with the kids on the team has on his own family, but yet he can't stay away. It's evident pretty early on that Bill needs these kids just as much they need him.
The boys in question have their own decisions to come to this year. O.C. has the talent to get to any college he would want to go to, but his grades aren't the best. Money suffers an injury and his journey back to the field is an enlightening one that opens his eyes to the world beyond football. The most amazing part of the story is the story of Chavis, it truly has to be seen to believed.
Where the film really excels is by showing us that we may have been spoiled by Hollywood sports movies. Real life is not a fair thing, good people get hurt, bad people get fourth and fifth chances when it looks like they'll never learn, and people only help out the ones who have potential for something great. Sometimes life kicks you in the face and it's how you react to failure and defeat that will end up being what defines you. UNDEFEATED is a definite must-see if you're tbe sports coach of kids in high school and younger, and something that must be shown to young athletes. More than that though, this is a film that will ultimately move you and you will end up rooting for these kids and for Bill Courtney. Best of all, you don't have to be a football fan, or even a sports fanatic, to understand the emotional impact of the things happening on screen.
UNDEFEATED echoes real life in a way that I've never seen in a sports documentary. If you're a compassionate person and love a good story, this will be one of the most moving and inspirational movies you can see this year.