If you loved The Blind Side,
then you may very well find yourself loving Undefeated,
an award-winning documentary feature from co-directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin that follows the fortunes of Memphis's Manassas High School football team during their unexpectedly successful year in 2009.
Those who've grown weary, however, of the whole "white savior" theme may quickly tire of the film that centers around Coach Bill Courtney, the white coach of an all African-American high school team set in the inner-city of Memphis against the backdrop of economic challenges, crime, family strife and much more. While Courtney isn't quite on par financially with a certain Tuohy family from The Blind Side,
he is a former football coach and current owner of a lumber yard who volunteers his time for the under-funded, under-equipped school. Undefeated
picks up in Courtney's sixth season coaching the team, and the team's status as a perennial whipping boy has ever so slightly changed and Manassas now enters the 2009 season with hopes, perhaps, of even winning their first ever play-off game.
If life doesn't get in the way.
has just about everything you could possibly want from a feature documentary from awesome and inspiring scenes to moments of true suspense and a rather amazing amount of inspiration. In fact, I can only hope that the fine folks from Heartland Film Festival will look up this film, a natural for their Truly Moving Picture Award.
What makes Undefeated
one of 2011's best and most entertaining documentaries is that Lindsay and Martin don't just glorify their subjects, but in following them for the entire season they manage to show these young men through their ups and downs, highs and lows, successes and heartbreaking failures. There's O.C., the player most likely to remind you of The Blind Side's
Michael Oher, a gentle giant with amazing potential if he can figure out a way to improve his grades. "Money" is a basically good kid still grieving the death of his father years earlier, while Chavis probably comes closest to resembling Indy's former bad boy Ron Artest, 'er Metta World Peace, whom we would figure out years later wasn't really that much of a bad boy after all.
has been short-listed by the Academy for Best Documentary Feature, and has also been picked up by The Weinstein Company for a theatrical release, not exactly a common thing for feature docs. The film does have some celeb pedigree as Seth Gordon, who most recently directed Horrible Bosses,
serves as one of the film's producers.
But, The Weinstein's have always been brilliant about finding a story they can sell and Undefeated
is a beautifully produced, revealing, honest and genuinely inspirational documentary that should have about as wide appeal as a feature doc can have with its story that will appeal to athletes, coaches, those who work with youth and basically anyone hoping for a genuinely moving story about the power of the human spirit to overcome obstacles.
features stellar music from Michael Brook with additional music by Miles Nielsen and Dan McMahon, while Martin and Lindsay also manage to make the film one of the most beautifully photographed docs of the year with equal parts realism and inspiration.
For more information on Undefeated,
visit the film's website.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic