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Undefeated | The Clapper Bored


High school football has been well trodden in the annals of sporting movies. It’s the great comeback sports, a metaphorical Hail Mary that works, emotionally, both on and off the pitch. It’s also totally mysterious to use Brits who, for the most part, assume it’s like a sort of deconstructed rugby. Put all that aside. Like the last few great sports documentaries (Senna and Bobby Fischer Against the World) Undefeated will hold just as much appeal to the uninitiated as it does for the well acquainted. Fundamentally, it is a human tale about endurance, friendship and hope. With some tackles as well.

The film follows the Memphis Manassas Tigers, a high school football team from a rough part of Tennessee. Coached by Bill Courtney, a family man who makes enormous sacrifices to work with the under-privileged kids, the film follows the team through the course of the final season of Bill’s tenure. It’s an extraordinary journey but it’s rendered so by the human factors, not the footballing factors. The team are good but not perfect. The players are talented but not all-stars. The film is not an expose of the dreams of pre-NFL primadonnas, but a demonstration of what can be achieved when kids from deprived and struggling families find a common goal to focus on. The results are complex and moving.

Cynical naysayers will say that the results are too uplifting to be wholly genuine that, perhaps, the film doesn’t show the flip side of life in North Memphis. But the film is honest about the way it portrays its three principal players and their coach- no attempt is made at messianic hero worship. These are tough kids and they know how to scrap into the end zone. The film is beautifully and tenderly made and, even though I don’t have much interest in the camaraderie of team sport, I found myself in an almost constant stream of tears. And I’m only slightly ashamed to admit that.

 Intelligent, sensitive filmmaking, coupled with an interesting and spiritual story make Undefeated a truly riveting documentary.

Title: Undefeated
Director(s): Daniel Lindsay, T.J.Martin
Starring: Bill Courtney, Chavis Daniels, Money, O.C.Brown
Running Time: About 2 hours
Certificate: 12a

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