Undefeated (12A)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner03/08/2012

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 113 mins

Gripping, well made and genuinely inspirational documentary that packs a powerful emotional punch, even if some of the scenes seem suspiciously contrived for maximum tear-jerking purposes.

What's it all about?
Directed by Daniel Lindsay and TJ Martin, Undefeated centres on the charismatic figure of Coach Bill Courtney (think Martin Clunes channelling Philip Seymour Hoffman), a volunteer high school football coach in Manassas, a run-down district of Memphis, Tennessee. The team have not won a single play-off game in their 110 year history, so Bill faces an uphill struggle. But, Bill's combination of tenacity, inspirational speeches and an extraordinary ability to really get through to his players slowly begins to change the team's fortunes.

At the same time, the film focuses on the lives of three key players: talented, hulking right tackle O.C. Brown, whose academic stuggles could spell trouble for his college football prospects (and who ends up being taken in by a white family, just like in The Blind Side, itself based on a true story); pint-sized, intelligent lineman Montrail “Money” Brown, whose dreams of college are threatened by a potentially disastrous football injury at the beginning of the season; and volatile ex-con Chavis Daniels, whose disruptive presence threatens the already fragile cohesion of the team.

The Good
The film is structured so that we follow the fortunes of both the Coach (who also has to juggle a struggling business and his own family life) and the three players simultaneously, throughout the course of the season, with Bill closely involved in each story strand. The filmmakers also include some impressively edited and genuinely thrilling game footage, though what's particularly interesting, at least to those unfamiliar with the sport, is that the directors clearly indicate the value of each of the featured players to the team.

The film does an excellent job of conveying exactly what football represents to each of the players involved (for Chavis the alternatives are clearly an imminent return to prison or worse) and it's genuinely moving to see the team's confidence in themselves grow as they absorb Bill's life lessons. For example, he constantly stresses the importance of character, telling them that how they handle defeat is as important as how they handle success. As such, the film occasionally comes across as a real-life version of Friday Night Lights (both the film and the subsequent TV show).

The Bad
That said, some of the sequences seem suspiciously contrived for maximum emotional manipulation purposes, most notably an awkwardly drawn out moment involving an actual Secret Millionaire. Similarly, the cameras seem to be conveniently on hand for every supposedly impromptu conversation, while some of the speeches occasionally feel like they're being delivered with the camera firmly in mind.

Worth seeing?
This is a well made, powerfully emotional and genuinely inspirational documentary that should appeal to both sports ignoramuses and fans of American football alike. Recommended.

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Content updated: 16/12/2017 20:34

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