Dir. Daniel Lindsay / T.J.Martin, US, 113mins, 2012
Cast: – Montrail Brown, O.C. Brown, Bill Courtney, Chavis Daniels
Review by Matthew Rodgers
Criminally, 2012’s recipient of the Best Documentary Academy Award will struggle to find an audience this side of the pond, much in the same way that other inherently US sports based movies have failed to resonate here, despite the following list containing some of the best genre transcending efforts of the last 20 years, oh, and The Blind Side. Reeling them off like a starting roster, you have; Friday Night Lights (both big and small screen incarnations), Any Given Sunday, Moneyball, Remember the Titans, and the truly remarkable, Hoop Dreams.
The roll call of movies is also important to this critique in expressing the way in which Undefeated blurs the lines between fact and fiction, with many of the twists and turns seemingly rooted in genre cliché, despite being indisputably real.
Documenting the fortunes ofMemphisbased American Football team, the Manassas Tigers, a ramshackle group of characters whose traits, for better or for worse, could come straight from the scripted page.
Under the guidance of Coach Courtney, who has a “careers worth of crap to deal with” in this one team, three individuals in particular are the focus of the filmmakers narrative; star player, O.C., a talented individual struggling with balancing the educational side of his career that is so important for underprivileged US kids in order to gain a college scholarship. Montrail Brown, a level-headed young man in his last season, fully aware of the future football can offer him. And finally Chavis Daniels, the talented hothead, a player who’s biggest handicap is his fiery temper. See what I mean about the clichés?
Undefeated is a snapshot of life against the backdrop of sport, and as such, once again this is a sports documentary, much in the same vane as Asif Kapadia’s peerless Senna, for which the audience don’t need to know their “fourth and ten” from their “line of scrimmage” to be completely immersed in the twists of fate that life throws at this team.
Lindsay and Martin don’t need to utilise the editing prowess that made the aforementioned F1 doc a success, this is much more simply framed story because what’s happening on screen is all that’s required. Coach Courtney, who you could imagine being played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, is a master of motivational speeches and intimate pep-talks that will make your hair stand on end and, along with the arcs of each character, eyes mist with regularity.
As powerful as any drama you’ll see this year, Undefeated may need its DVD release to carry it to the inspirational end zone it deserves. Brilliant.