Chicago International Film Festival 2011
Undefeated Directed by: Daniel Lindsay and TJ Martin Cast: Manassas Tigers Running Time: 1 hr 55 mins Rating: NR Release Date: TBD
PLOT: This documentary follows the struggles of an underdog football team and its volunteer coach.
WHO'S IT FOR? Fans of Friday Night Lights or any sports enthusiast will greatly enjoy this inspiring documentary.
Undefeated is the sort of tale we’ve all seen before. A group of inner city kids. A well-to-do coach who tries to turn their lives around. It seems like there’s one of this kind of movie every couple of months. To pretend that Undefeated doesn’t fall into this category of “inspiring sports drama” is ridiculous. It absolutely is. Still, what Undefeated lacks in originality, it mores than makes up for in heart.
Honestly, that’s sold me on Undefeated. The overwhelming sincerity carries it through the minefield of sports drama cliches and Undefeated emerges virtually unscathed. It’s true, Undefeated isn’t the perfect movie, but it’s the type of flaws that, as an audience member, I’ve come to expect from this type of movie. It’s maudlin in portions and its pacing is somewhat uneven, but none of them detract from the genuine sentiment that Undefeated taps into.
While the way the film is put together certainly has something to do with that, a fair amount of credit should go to the characters in the film. It might sound unusual to call documentary subjects as “characters”, they certainly earn the title in Undefeated. At first glance, you have the traditional character types, such as the passionate coach and the troubled youth, but Undefeated allows its subjects to grow. By chronicling the entire football season, there are ample opportunities to develop these figures and Undefeated doesn’t shy away from the task.
On one hand, you have the reformed bad boy, Chavis, who is first introduced upon his return from a youth penitentiary. We’re shown this raw and intense personality who’s so desperately in need of the direction and focus that football provides him. While Chavis’s development is certainly inspirational, and full of obstacles, his reformation is the type of storyline one would expect going into a sports documentary. No, Undefeated is most compelling when it shows the disappointments in the lives of these young football players. We’re so conditioned to believe that everything will turn out right, and with Undefeated it does in a way, but those small failures plant a seed of doubt. It reminds us that this is real life and real life doesn’t always wrap up nicely. The moments of despair in Undefeated are few and far between, but their inclusion makes the documentary that much more emotionally potent.
The best way to describe Undefeated is rich and full of character. At one point in the doc, the coach asks his team what has he always told them about character. After the initial blank stares he reminds them, it’s not what you do with your successes, it’s how you handle your failures. Undefeated takes this definition to heart. It gives us a taste of both the bitter and the sweet. That’s what keeps it from straying too far into the cliches of the sports movie. Ultimately, it offers a hopeful message but regardless of the successes and the failures of the Manassas Tigers, there’s one thing that can be said about the ragtag team of inner city youths. They’ve got character.
FINAL SCORE: 9/10