Everyone understands there are two Undefeated films out there, right? One is a piece of hagiography about Sarah Palin that you can throw in the dumpster (it’s only made a lousy $100,000 since opening in mid-July), and the other is really, really good. I’ve just seen the latter, a deeply touching 90-minute doc about Memphis’s Manassas Tigers, an African-American high-school football team trying to up their wins. But it’s mainly about various team members toughing it out with personal struggles. And it really sinks in.
The Undefeated gang at Austin’s SXSW film festival in mid March 2011.
The first half of Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin‘s film is somewhere between good enough and not bad — very nicely shot & smoothly cut but still a familiar portrait of a rural underdog football team. Seen it before. But the second half…whoa. That’s when all the threads pay off and the seeds sprout, and it really gets you. I started to choke up a bit during one scene, but I coughed and kept it in check. “Shit…this is affecting,” I said to myself.
The life of the party is Bill Courtney, a dogged, red-haired lumber mill owner who donates his time as coach of the Tigers. He’s really quite an educator and an orator and an inspirational father to his players. He really gets into their lives and gets them to deal with their temporary setbacks, foibles, challenges.
The main “characters” are “Money” Brown, a right tackle who suffers a torn ligament halfway through his senior season. An angry junior named Chavis Daniels who did time in a youth jail during his sophomore year. And O.C. Brown, a 280-pounder (he reminds you of the kid in The Blind Side) who has the best shot at a college football scholarship but who has problems getting decent grades.
It’s basically a slice of a real-life Blind Side (as far as O.C. is concerned) mixed in with Peter Berg‘s Friday Night Lights but without the wackjob parents.
It even ends on a similar note to Berg’s film. It isn’t the winning or the losing, but how you play the game and whether or not you’ve given your all and stood tall in a proud way, etc. The doc isn’t really about football as much as character, intestinal fortitude, manning up, etc. And caring, really caring. Put a little love in your heart.