Review No. 443

“Undefeated”–and yet not victorious, either.


Directed & Edited by: Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin

Distributed by the Weinstein Company on February 17, 2012. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 113 mins. Rated PG-13 by the MPAA–infrequent language.

Undefeated was watched on March 4, 2013.

“Football doesn’t build character, it reveals character!” –Marv Levy

There’s a scene in the setup of Undefeated that represents the entire rest of the film. A roomful of lower class football players is asked two questions: Whose parents have gone to college? Not one hand is raised. Who has a relative that has been or is currently incarcerated? Almost every hand goes up. The scene is very moving and presents the sad mood of the documentary. But I couldn’t help but wonder how many movies I’d seen with similar moments.

Undefeated is the story of several seniors at Manassas High School. For their entire lives, these students have been some of the most unruly, impoverished, uneducated, undisciplined, and aggressive youngsters in all of Tennessee. For six years, they’ve been training under perhaps the most volatile coach imaginable, in order to become the first class in the school’s existence that will win a football championship.

I know this is a documentary, but I felt it was entirely predictable. The film’s biggest mistake parallels that of most sports dramas. It’s pretty much inevitable that the Manassas Tigers will win, despite their huge underdog status. However, the underdog status is what keeps our attention.

Another huge misstep I can’t help but whine about is that I felt as though I had come to know the coach more than the team. The coach is starlit in Undefeated, perhaps because of his aggression that motivates the team, but nonetheless, the team deserves recognition and spotlighting for their outrageously prosperous efforts. Some scenes feature them in an unforgettable light. I’m not sure I’ll ever let go of the scene in which humans are compared to turtles, for they try and act tough on the outside when really, they’re only weaklings. I just wish there were more scenes that powerful.

I can’t say Undefeated was a true victory. It’s very flawed and it could have turned out much better. How it won the Academy Award for Best Documentary, I’ll never understand. But it’s difficult not to feel intrigued or inspired. Quite frankly, I think that’s all it wanted to achieve.



Stardust Memories


4 thoughts on “Undefeated

  1. Your review is more negative than what I’ve heard. I can appreciate the narrative structure follow the clichéd arc of a your standard drama. I’m still very much interested in seeing this.

    As a rare win for a sports documentary, perhaps its award somewhat makes up for the fact that “Hoop Dreams” wasn’t even nominated the year it came out.

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