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Friday, 13 April 2012 00:00

'Undefeated' Wins for Values and Valor

'Undefeated' Wins for Values and Valor
Written by Diane Carson
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  • Director: Dan Lindsay, T.J. Martin
  • Dates: Opens April 13, 2012

Documentaries following underdog sports teams through a turbulent season have become terribly clichéd. The Academy Award winning documentary Undefeated at first seems cut from the same cloth but it quickly shows that it is much, much more than the same old story. The primary reason is Bill Courtney, Coach Bill, as he's called, and the Manassas Tigers football team.

As the film begins in 2009, the North Memphis Tigers have not had a winning season in years, often compiling an 0 and 10 record and sometimes, to their utter delight, winning one game. In 110 years, they have never, ever won a single playoff game. Enter Coach Bill, a force of nature in the lives of the underprivileged, black, high school teenagers. More amazing, he's white, meaning this film's closest relative is The Blind Side. Undefeated surpasses it on every level. For starters, it never condescends to the young men nor does it congratulate Bill for his commitment, even though he and his staff volunteer their time.

Bill is just a devoted coach who identifies with and sees the desperate need among the players who fight with each other and seldom with him. These hard luck teenagers know when the truly wise, genuine, loving individual comes along, and most have had few such men in their lives. As with Bill, their fathers have gone AWOL.

Coach Bill's commitment takes its toll on his full-time job running a hardwood lumber company and on his family, illuminating subplots that directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin include just enough to round out Bill's life. Directly and calmly, Undefeated anchors its character study in Bill with three key players figuring prominently. The football games provide a mere backdrop to an inspirational but never sentimental or sappy year of these young men's ups and downs, including one with serious anger management problem, one with a career-threatening ACL injury, and one with academic challenges.

Despite the many tried and true, fiction and nonfiction sports films, Undefeated charts a new, fresh course, brilliantly edited from over 500 hours shot during the year. It brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart. Courtney says, "Football doesn't build character, it reveals character." And Undefeated shows it at its best. At a Landmark Theatre.

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