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Undefeated (2011)

The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/19/2013

All Ratings out of

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/18/2013

In my recent review for Paul Williams: Still Alive, I began a discussion of what components make for a good documentary. If you are making a retrospective documentary, such as those from Ken Burns, then you need to be really good at research and editing together various images from the past. However, if you are truly documenting an occurrence from the present, then it's all about timing. Assuming that you've chosen a good subject, the cameras must be there to capture not only the important moments, but those moments which will work well on film and truly move the audience. So, the question is -- Is this truly talent or simply dumb luck? This is something to consider when watching the Oscar-winning documentary Undefeated.

Filmmakers Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin heard the story of O.C. Brown, an African-American high school football player from North Memphis, Tennessee who was living with a white family. O.C. was getting a lot of attention from college scouts and the story seemed very interesting, so Daniel and T.J. decided to check it out. Once they arrived at Manassas High School, they decided to begin documenting the entire football team, especially Coach Bill Courteney, and the Tigers' entire season. Manassas High is in a very economically challenged section of town and the football program there has a dismal history. Many of the players see football as a way to escape. Coach Courtney (who is white) has dedicated all of his free time (when he's not running his business), putting aside his own family, to whip these boys into shape. We see how academic and personal crises can side-track the players and the work which Courtney does to keep them focused and motivated. The movie follows the whole season, as we watch the highs and lows, including injuries, fights, and other setbacks. But, nothing can keep these young men down.

On paper, the idea of Undefeated is pretty simple -- document the year of a high school football team. The result could have been very boring and clinical. Lindsay and Martin could have simply kept their distance, filming practices and games with a cold eye. Instead, they really get inside the action, both on and off the field. They must have really built a rapport and a comfort level with their subjects, as the camera captures very revealing interviews and raw scenes of emotion and anger. Good documentarians can blend into the background and Lindsay and Martin must have done just this, as you will be surprised at how these tough coaches and obstinate young men let their guards down.

As far as the story goes, Undefeated must have basically wrote itself, as the Tigers has a very tumultuous season which was filled with challenges and drama. In between the games and the practices, the movie profiles the aforementioned O.C. Brown and another player, Montrail "Money" Brown (no relation that I know of). O.C.'s story is not unlike that of Michael Oher from The Blind Side, as a young African-American football player goes to live with a white family in order to get proper tutoring so that he can remain on the football team and qualify for a college scholarship. Money is an undersized player who does well in school, but he's also quick to let problems get in his way. The movie also spends a great deal of time with Coach Courtney and the access allowed to these individuals really allows us to get to know them.

Like any documentary, Undefeated leave me with some unanswered questions. For example, the film opens with Courtney listing the number of players who were lost for the year because they had been shot. The movie never comes back to this. What happened with that? An announcement of that nature leads us to believe that the school is in a high crime district, but we never hear more about it. Also, we learn that Courtney played organized ball at one point, but we don't hear how far he went or how he did. Those issues aside, Undefeated offers well-photographed football action, suspense as we wait to see how the season ends, and true, raw emotion as we watch both the boys and the men suffer for the game they love. Football is truly America's game and Undefeated shows that there are human beings underneath the shoulder pads and helmets.

Undefeated informed me that high schools pay one another to play on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of The Weinstein Company and Anchor Bay Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc carries an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, although there is a fine sheen of grain on the image most of the time. (I'm not sure what elements were used to shoot the film.) There are no defects from the source materials. The colors are natural and look good. Being a documentary, the filmmakers were often at the mercy of other lighting sources, so some shots are a bit dark. The image shows good detail and acceptable depth. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.4 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The bulk of the audio comes from the front and center channels and we get some nice stereo effects as sounds move across the screen or come from one side. The crowd noises at the games come from the rear speakers, giving us a sense of being there.

The Undefeated Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Directors Daniel Lindsay & T.J. Martin. "Making of" (9 minutes) features interviews with Lindsay, Martin, Courtney, and Executive Producer Sean Combs. The Disc contains six DELETED SCENES which run about 14 minutes. This includes scenes with Joaquin, another player who was profiled, but whose scenes were cut. Otherwise, these are simply more scenes showing Coach Courtney interacting with the players. The final extra is a "Black & White Teaser Trailer" for the film.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.