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'Undefeated' not groundbreaking, but still inspirational

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

The Manassas Tigers in Undefeated.


Filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin couldn't have hoped for a better underdog football story to track when they turned on their cameras to shoot a single season at Manassas High School in North Memphis, Tennessee, in 2004. As the story unfolds over the course of 12 games, the co-directors discover that while they don't necessarily have an incredibly unique angle to take on the familiar narrative, the film's strength lies within the young men who step onto the gridiron with pride and determination. It's their authenticity and raw emotion and the leadership of one dedicated coach that defines the Manassas Tigers as a team and inspires them to rise above their situation. Sure, it has all been done countless times before, but nothing really compares to actually witnessing the real thing.

Winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in February, Undefeated follows Manassas as they attempt to alter their longtime reputation as a talentless team and win their school's first playoff game in its 110-year history. Partaking in the uphill battle: Bill Courtney, a volunteer head coach with the insight of a fortune cookie ("The character of a man is not measured by how he handles his wins, but what he does with his failures"); Montrail Brown, an undersized and intelligent athlete whose senior year doesn't go as planned; Chavis Daniels, a troubled teenager who needs an extra push to see the error of his ways; and O.C. Brown, a future college star whose life parallels that of Michael Oher from The Blind Side, minus an annoying Sandra Bullock twanging in his ear.

Like most underdog stories, Undefeated is not without the overused sports metaphors and clichés. But at least it doesn't mercilessly play the race card and — more importantly — offers a bona fide reason we should be on our feet rooting for everyone involved.

★★★ ½ (out of 5 stars)

Undefeated

Dir. Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin; feat. Bill Courtney, O.C. Brown, Montrail "Money" Brown, Chavis Daniels (PG-13)

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