This Oscar-nominated documentary has the right kind of warmly humanistic elements of The Blind Side and Friday Night Lights that may help it expand beyond predominantly southern and urban centers, before it could pick up noticeably in its ancillary run.
Undefeated is well-directed by Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin and wisely uses the high-school gridiron from North Memphis to reflect the vagaries of life for talented, if troubled youth. The grind goes beyond the importance of what the game (with its cliches from personal struggles) entails, not so much trying to be a sports film as what a film like The Hurricane did through its message of finding "love from hate."
An inspiring slice-of-life resonates from positive-minded Manassas Tigers head coach Bill Courtney (once a high-school coach and who grew up without much of a paternal presence) who has volunteered his time for the team for a half-dozen years while toiling in hardwood-floors through a lumber business.
2009's fall practice signals a new season for the Tigers who have been dumped on by the competition in their division and conference (having never won in the playoffs), but getting one of his players back in school, having a college scout on hand for one O.C. Brown, and a group of seniors under his tutelage for some time could be just right in how he stresses teamwork on and off the field.
Individual problems are felt growing up in the ghetto, so the challenge for Courtney is getting his players in the right physical and mental condition by being the support system and instilling tough love when necessary. By knowing a little what they're going through abandonment, a difficult, dysfunctional lifestyle could be curtailed to a degree at first by the admission of impulsive, antagonistic feelings.
Chavis Daniels is trying to adjust to civilized life after getting out of jail and it's tough as his brawling gets him suspended from the team with Courtney doing his best to restore the young man's equilibrium in life. The vigilant, caring coach also has his hands full with Montrail "Money" Brown who loses sight of his academic obligations after the gloominess over what appears to be season-ending knee ligament damage. O.C. Brown needs to raise his work in the classroom to ensure the college potential he's displaying with the helmet and pads on similar to Michael Oher (from the aforementioned Sandra Bullock film) who'd go on to Ole Miss. One of Courtney's assistant's families would offer their residence so O.C. could do well on the A.C.T. and improve on his grades.
What's so good about Undefeated is its ability to always be cognizant of the bigger picture and that team always comes first through a savior in the hardworking, instructive and instinctive Courtney who knows how to survive and advance through the everyday battles. The program that the coach has built to adopt an invaluable mindset about being victorious turns out to be an impactful, yet forked road of documentary-like realism that, like its rough sport, ultimately "reveals character."