With a name like Undefeated, one would think that The Weinstein Company’s new sports documentary would be like so many other tear-jerker sports documentaries and sports-centric big screen dramas that have been created throughout Hollywood’s modern era. But the reality of Undefeated is that while it does bare some semblance to other fictitious football dramas and sports documentaries, this documentary stand out in that it is actually less about football than it is about the struggle of a group of young men to overcome the challenges of their surroundings and escape those environs. It just so happens that the main means of escaping all of that is through football.
What is most impressive about Undefeated is that while it is a documentary film, the progression of the story makes it feel just like it was a scripted work. That’s thanks to equally solid editing and cinematography. Rather than simply being another par for course documentary, what audiences get in this program is more of a fly on the wall point of view. There is no interaction with the camera throughout the story. And the first person testimonials of sorts are kept to an extreme minimum. Yes, there are times when audiences are offered Courtney’s personal thoughts on his journey with his players. But those “testimonials” are more along the lines of voice-overs than someone sitting in front of the camera, talking to viewers. That angle gives the story an extra amount of emotional depth. That depth will pull viewers in even more and keep them engaged throughout the course of the story’s near two-hour run time. And in being so emotionally invested in the story, no viewer will be left dry-eyed by its final moments. Even the strongest of male audiences will be moved by the story’s final closure and its epilogue included in the end credits. And that’s okay. That emotional openness just shows character, which as coach Courtney notes is revealed through football.
The shooting and the editing go a long way toward making Undefeated a moving story for all audiences. But what would the shooting be without the story itself? Yes, it bears some semblance to so many big budget sports based dramas. But as audiences will see in this story, it is its own original story. For starters, Coach Courtney (who looks a little bit like comedian Louie Anderson) isn’t one of Hollywood’s beautiful people. He is an ordinary person who leads this group of roughnecks for absolutely no pay. He is a volunteer coach. How often have audiences ever seen such a story on the big screen? And he shows his love and respect for the young men he leads not by some script loaded with flourishing soliloquies and moments of epiphany. Rather, he shows them a mix of tough love and respect. That mix is used as many of these young men have no male role model in their lives. This is very much a reality in everyday life. Courtney himself admits to having grown up without a father. That makes his determination to make these young men into respectable individuals and athletes that much stronger. And it’s because of this that audiences will easily find themselves rooting both for Courtney and for the group of young men whom he leads into battle every Friday night on the high school gridiron.
Those on-field battles help key players O.C., Money, and Chavis become better. They also help the whole team become a stronger unit and become one of the best teams that Manassas has ever had. Of course it all leads up to a rather unexpected ending, which won’t be revealed here. But even with that ending, it is the personal wins of O.C., Money, and Chavis and the entire team that makes the title of this documentary so fitting. It’s that understanding that leaves Undefeated a rare touchdown of a sports documentary that audiences will want to watch over and over again.
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