At the Movies: Undefeated

I have not seen any of the “American Pie” movies, so I would feel out of place at their reunion. Instead I’ll do something I don’t often do around here — review a documentary. And a sports documentary at that. It’s an Easter weekend miracle.

Note: I will be reviewing “Undefeated,” the recent winner of the Academy Award for Best Documentary. It opens in St. Louis today. Do not confuse it with “The Undefeated,” the recent documentary about Sarah Palin. The only way I would watch anything about Sarah Palin is if I were strapped to a chair like the guy in “A Clockwork Orange.”

Directed by Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin, “Undefeated” follows the highs and lows of a high school football team — the Manassas Tigers of inner-city Memphis. The team has been on the losing end for so long that affluent schools pay them to play them and take a beating. Manassas is so desperate for money that they play along.

Into this sad situation comes Bill Courtney, local lumber company owner who volunteers to coach the team. His personality and determination are two of the many stars of the show and the key to why he’s also the central figure. Over the course of six years he manages to turn around the program and in the year being documented the team makes an unprecedented run for the playoffs.

The film also focuses on three players: Montrail Brown, a senior who suffers an injury late in the season leading to a moving struggle as he tries to get back into shape before the last game; Chavis Daniels, a junior with anger management issues who has returned to the field after spending the previous season in a youth detention facility; and in a subplot reminiscent of “The Blind Side,” O.C. Brown is strong on the field but weak at academics, so he moves in with an assistant coach’s family in suburbia so he can be tutored for the ACTs.

“Undefeated” offers everything you expect from an inspirational true sports story but this one’s even more impressive because it hasn’t been dramatized and fictionalized by Hollywood. It’s very real, very moving and very impressive.

 

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