I’m not going to bombard you with flowery words or get too deep and meaningful in this film review. But I am going to tell you that every NFL fan should watch “Undefeated” as it opens in cinemas across the United Kingdom this week.
It’s not only a great American football story – it’s a great story, period.
Produced by film-makers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, the Oscar-winning documentary charts the progress of the Manassas High School football team as the perennial whipping boys of North Memphis chase a first playoff win in their 110-year history.
But this is more than just a “poor team turns it around” story. This is the inspiring real-life tale of a team from the wrong side of the tracks who are led and inspired by a volunteer coach in Bill Courtney – an average man who spends way too much time away from his wife and family and his day job (he runs his own hardwood company in Tennessee) in order to be a positive influence in the lives of his young players.
At the very beginning of this documentary, we are reminded of the tough task at hand in overseeing the Manassas football team.
Coach Courtney stands before his players and says: “Starting right guard – shot... not in school. Starting linebacker – shot... not in school. Starting center – shoots somebody in the face with a gun and is suspended.
“I know damn well what I sign up for every year and I keep coming back.”
Throughout the first half of the film there are constant reminders of the fact this team that plays on a scruffy field consisting more of dirt and weeds than grass, is from a less-than-desirable part of town.
Airport-style metal detectors greet the students as they arrive at school each day and we are shown shots of a pupil being led out of school in handcuffs by police. A sombre reminder of the social backdrop of this film comes when Manassas beats a local rival and cannot even partake in the post-game handshake on advice of the local police. Instead, they strap on their helmets – on coach’s orders – and sprint to the team bus!
Having watched that scene I can confirm there is no Tennessee equivalent of the FA’s Respect campaign in high school American football.
There are many times when you feel sorry for the flip flop-wearing head coach who could never be accused of not having his players’ best interests at heart. He is almost reduced to tears when he is struck by the realisation that he cannot even have his players watch film together without a fight breaking out.
“You’re killing me,” he tells them.
Without giving away too much of what happens on the football field, you will become enthralled by the stories of the central characters in the film – Coach Courtney, giant offensive tackle O.C. Brown, down-on-his-luck tackle ‘Money’ and Chavis – the linebacker just out of juvenile prison who clearly has anger management issues and is a punch-up waiting to happen.
Throughout the documentary you realise – emphatically – that Courtney is as much father figure as he is head coach. And he battles with maintaining that balance between mentor and coach, ending a couple of very emotional, heart-wrenching scenes with lines straight out of Coaching 101 such as “get yourself together and get your ass back in the huddle” and “let’s beat Kingsbury.”
As the season and the film draws to a conclusion, you will constantly have to remind yourself that this is, in fact, a documentary and not the brainchild of some Hollywood movie mogul. At times, it feels very much like a script-written movie, not a documentary.
But make no mistake, this is real. It is raw, moving, emotional and inspiring.
I challenge any of you to watch the final scenes of “Undefeated” without getting a lump in the throat.
I simply don’t think it can be done. And that’s because this is so much more than a football movie. It is a snapshot of life and it will take you through a whole range of emotions as these young players attempt to overcome some pretty challenging obstacles.
I could waffle on for a lot longer about this documentary but I don’t want to give too much more away and I think every NFL fan should watch it.
If you do, you won’t regret it – this is the best film I have watched all year.
Click here http://dogwoof.com/films/undefeated to find out where you can watch “Undefeated” in the United Kingdom.