Film Review : Undefeated
● By Justin Buettner
The Oscar winning documentary Undefeated finally makes its way to video release. The film follows Bill Courtney, the head football coach at inner city Manassas high school, an underfunded and underprivileged team that has not won a playoff game in its 114 year existence. In the face of extreme adversity can he transform his group of individual kids into a team of winners?
Great documentaries open up a window to a subject’s life at the right time to make statements bigger than the subject at hand, and Undefeated is one of those. Seeing the trials and tribulations that these kids face in their daily life really puts a spotlight on the deep rooted problems that face the nation in regards to the decay of the American family. While the movie uses the high school football team as a starting point, the film really shows how single parent households dominate this area and how missing a father figure really causes a lot of damage in these kids lives. To make an even more interesting angle the head coach also comes from a broken home. The movie highlights how Coach Courtney’s decision to coach the team stems from the pain of having his father leave when he was a child. Undefeated subtly shows the strain Courtney puts on his own family by coaching the Manassas team too. In one quick segment the film illustrates how Courtney coaching the Manassas team impacts his own son not having his father around. This segment sets up a big decision the coach makes at the end of the film.
The three players the film decides to follow really highlight a great variety of circumstances too. O.C. Brown is the star lineman, recruited by big time college programs, that is taken in by an assistant coach. Brown’s situation very closely mirrors what was seen in the hit the Blind Side. The other two stories are even more interesting as Chavis Daniels is a student with anger control issues who at the beginning of the film is released from a juvenile detention center after serving 15 months behind bars. His turnaround during the course of the film which sees Chavis suspended from the team to then come back and win the motivational player of the year award by his team was inspiring. In addition the movie spends a great deal of time following Montrail Brown, the little guy with a huge heart, who gets a severe injury at the beginning of the season. The pain he goes through losing the support system he gets from the team, as he comes from a broken home too, is crushing. To see just how close he comes to losing everything and how the extra effort of coach Courtney plays a pivotal role in Brown regaining a chance at a better life again is stirring.
The editing in a documentary film is crucial to its success. Undefeated is the perfect length and doesn’t have a minute not needed or a minute wasted. The way it weaved information into the story at just the right times helped put exclamation points on the theme the film delivers. The filmmakers put just the right mix of football to dramatic footage and quite honestly the football games themselves could not have been written any better by a Hollywood writer. The team comes back and loses at just the right moments and it plays just the right teams to really highlight the David versus Goliath finale.
What really makes Undefeated special is the film works on several levels. It is entertaining and can be watched by general sports fans who love sports movies. It can be watched for the drama of the personal challenges the players and coaches go through. It can also be viewed as a political/social commentary too. The movie really has something for everyone and shines a vivid light on a way of life I think many in this country really don’t see a lot of. It’s truly one of last year’s best films that largely went by unnoticed. If you have the chance, you should really take the time to watch Undefeated.
Films like Undefeated : Hoop Dreams, Murderball, and King of Kong
Justin Buettner is Style's resident movie dude! How did he get this role? Well, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Bachelor of Arts in film Production and a duel minor in Animation and Business with an emphasis in the entertainment field. He later went on to work on several independent films in various key roles including writer and later worked in the special effects field as a motion capture artist. He has since relocated to the Sacramento area with his family and continues writing for small independent films in addition to his movie reviews for Style Magazine.