Rating: 4 stars out of 5
"If you think football builds character, it does not," Bill Courtney, the volunteer coach who takes on the job of coaching the Manassas Tigers says. "It reveals character."
That's the central message for this engrossing documentary. Even if you're not a fan of American Football, the game where guys wear shoulder pads with different players for offense and defense, this documentary is still an absorbing look into the lives of a high school football team and the struggles that players and the coach face.
It sounds like the American football version of ‘Hoop Dreams’, the classic documentary about two high school basketball players yearning for the big time. ‘Undefeated’ which won the Best Documentary Feature Oscar this year and has received critical acclaim, shares many similarities with that film, particularly about underdogs coming up against impossible odds and the power of sport to lift the human spirit.
The straight-talking Courtney makes the difference, lifting a team that hasn't won a game for 10 years into the playoffs with his coaching and grasp of the team. Besides him, the film focuses on three players. Events on and off the field, utterly unscripted, take on a uniquely dramatic turn.
Culled from 500 hours of footage that the filmmakers shot, ‘Undefeated’ does go on too long, but the central power of its message is strong, and it's hard not to be moved by the trial and tribulations of this football team.
It stands with ‘Hoop Dreams’ and ‘Senna’ as one of the best sport documentaries ever made, and even if you know nothing about American Football you can't help but get caught up with the story of this team's long journey to a sort of greatness.