If you werenâ€™t aware that Undefeated was a documentary beforehand, then you could be forgiven for thinking this is just another American sports movie. You may be sat watching for a while, waiting for Kevin Costner to show up. But he doesnâ€™t. Instead Undefeated demonstrates rather sublimely why it won the 2011 Oscar for Best Documentary.
Undefeated documents the 2009 season for the Manassas High School football team, nicknamed The Tigers. In their entire 110-year history, they have never advanced to the end of season play-offs. Already this is starting to sound like a bad sports movie, and when it comes to the clichÃ©s of the genre, Undefeated is packed to the rafters with them. Youâ€™ve got the obligatory comebacks, team mates fighting amongst themselves of the training field, and one storyline which is almost exactly the same as the plot from Sandra Bullockâ€™s Oscar winning football movie The Blind Side. The directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin do a good job of combining fictional style with non-fiction storytelling, but at times it does feel like the truth is struggling to break through, or even getting in the way of the drama.
When Lindsay and Martin do focus on the heart of the story though, they are able to tap into some genuine emotion that makes you forget about all the story clichÃ©s. While most of these movies would try and preach that football builds character, this is a film that shows that it actually reveals who these high school students really are. The true star of the film, as is quite often the case, is the coach of the team Bill Courtney. He works on a voluntary basis, but when we hear his passion and his belief in his team of young athletes you feel someone should be trying to pay him instantly. Heâ€™s very much a father figure for many of the team, and one particular scene when he shows one of the players how to put on cologne, itâ€™s hard not to let the poignancy completely take over. And because weâ€™ve seen everything he has been through, when things go wrong you canâ€™t help but share the frustration he feels.
In comparison to documentaries such as Senna which was horrifically overlooked at last yearâ€™s Oscars, Undefeated doesnâ€™t really match up. Having said that, it is probably one of the most emotionally satisfying documentaries youâ€™ll see in a long time. It may prefer to focus on emotions instead of analysing things, but its universal nature will even bring the severest critics of American Football round and make them pay attention.
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