A great sports documentary can capture everything ones loves about a given game – if done well, it doesn’t need fireworks or manipulation to craft something both special and memorable. Sure, the added tension of any competition (be it as diverse as a spelling bee or a Teen music competition) makes for added drama, but in the right hands a beautiful story can be crafted within the documentary form. When a sports doc is done well (WHEN WE WERE KINGS, HOOP DREAMS), it can truly be a wonderful thing.
UNDEFEATED, in as improbable a fashion as any work, reaches these lofty heights. When the filmmakers chose to follow coach Bill Courtney as he tried to take a predominantly black highschool from the doldrums of over a century without a playoff win to craft success out of a slew of prominent players.
We’re introduced to the giant man O.C. Brown, enormous for his age, the troubled Chavis Daniels with a huge chip on his shoulder, and little Montrail “Money” Brown striving to get a college scholarship.
If the film was scripted then it would have checked off every cliche, yet the story unfolds so compellingly with the added ring of reality. The highs and lows of the teams are felt strongly, the audience drawn to every play and setback for each individual. The rhetoric of the coach is infectious, yet equally presented are the challenges that his commitment to other kids holds for both his own family and his small business.
Driving and emotionally satisfying without ever appearing overtly manipulative or staged, the film is executed with a fine precision and a steady pace. The craft of the film is exceptional, but it’s the small moments that the filmmakers were lucky/skilled enough to capture that make the film such a delight.
UNDEFEATED enters the pantheon of the great sports film, one that’s likely to provide tremendous pleasure for football and documentary fans alike. Lindsay and Martin come across as exceptional young talent, their eye spot on for creating this gem of a work. Can’t wait to see what they choose to film next!