By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Good news! The acclaimed but underseen winner of the Best Documentary Feature Oscar is finally hitting DVD, where we can all check it out! No, not this year’s winner. That came out a few weeks ago. Nope, I’m talking about 2011’s big winner, Undefeated.
Damn, and I bet on a Magnificent Ambersons director’s cut coming out first
Undefeated tells the story of a perpetually losing inner-city Memphis high school football team, the Manassas Tigers, as they begin an unlikely run towards the playoffs. The journey is not an easy one, as volunteer coach Bill Courtney must shepherd a group of young men who have become resigned to never succeeding in football or even life, to becoming winners on the football field and more importantly, to becoming fine young men with newfound hope and pride.
The strange thing about the release of this film is that it might be the most surefire crowdpleaser documentary I’ve ever seen. And yet, it barely got a theatrical release, and is just now coming out on DVD… weird. Anyway, imagine The Blind Side meets Friday Night Lights, but in undramatized real life. Courtney is basically a mash-up of Coach Taylor and Buddy Garrity from the Friday Night Lights TV show, and the documentary does a great job of capturing his determination, unconventional attitude, and strength of character.
The amount I was impressed by Courtney was only superseded by how much the young man he coached made an impression on me. This film is undeniably inspirational and unabashedly heartwarming, particularly in the case of intelligent, driven Montrail Brown, who gets a rough dose of reality, and volatile, incredibly angry Chavis Daniels, who must do a whole lot of growing up very quickly. Also focused on is freakishly athletic guard prospect O.C. Brown, who, like Michael Oher, found himself living with a coach’s family in order to make college and a likely pro future possible.
And Sandra Bullock didn’t even have to sass a gang boss to make it happen
The film itself is beautifully shot, and captures sports action easily on par with anything Hollywood can do. The people behind the film are one’s I’ll definitely be keeping tabs on.
With any documentary of this type, you are forced to wonder how much the facts where massaged. While the film certainly feels genuine, you can tell where it was greased a bit to fit into a narrative. Considering their 8-1 record, calling the last game of the season a “win or go home” game is just wrong. Also, does Courtney just drive around with spare bottles of cologne in his car all the time, just in case? The other nitpick I have is that if the film were a Hollywood production, it’d be a fairly standard one, what with newspaper headline montages and suspense-heightening edits. Thankfully, The Blind Side this is not.
This film rivals any inspirational sports film I’ve seen, plus it’s true.
Take a Drink: whenever you see a devastating block
Take a Drink: whenever Chavis torpedoes himself
Take a Drink: whenever the coach shows a Mother Theresa level of patience
Do a Shot: when you spot a buddy shedding a tear. Double shots for him.
Last Call: Stick around for the credits to see what happens to everyone after the film