Movie Review: "UNDEFEATED"
Published: Friday, March 16, 2012
Updated: Friday, March 16, 2012 14:03
Shot like an ESPN “30 For 30” documentary, “Undefeated” is the story of the 2009 Manassas High School football team. The North Memphis lifestyle is not one described as insatiable, not something that one would crave for under the worst of circumstances. These kids literally define the overused cliché of “nothing to something” in a way that most of us have never seen before. It rightfully won the “Best Documentary” category at this year’s Academy Awards, and is something all of us should watch to learn how to be more appreciative for everything we have.
Bill Courtney was a small business owner who moved to North Memphis with his wife and kids to start a new lumber business. The location of this business just happened to be across from Manassas, where Courtney eventually stopped by after hearing about and seeing how bad the football team was. He became the head football coach and took the program by his massive, grasping hands. They didn’t do so well his first few years there, but he eventually got a group of strong, young players to turn the team around.
To describe how poverty-stricken and pathetic the Manassas football team was, they used to go to large high schools in Tennessee during their homecoming games and get paid thousands of dollars to get their ass kicked. They needed this money because the school didn’t give them enough to exist as a program. Courtney and his assistant coaches created the “Man Rise” charitable organization to help fund the team because of this atrocity. He says once that “My business ain’t makin’ money, but I still spend it on you,” talking to the team. He gives up everything, including valuable time with his young children, to guide the Manassas football team.
The players in the documentary are likeable, however many problems they have. The best player on the team, right tackle O.C. Brown does not do well academically and lives with his Grandma. In order to get into a Division 1 football program, he needs to do well on his ACT stores – much better than he is currently scoring. His academic struggles are in part due to the fact that they advanced him a grade for being as large as he is – a full 6’2 and 300+ pounds.
Chavis is a boy in a man’s body who has severe anger issues, in part because of the absence of his father in his childhood but also because of the ghetto life he has been exposed to in North Memphis. After doing over a year in jail, he rejoins the football team in time for their run in 2009 and learns a few lessons along the way.
Money is an undersized tackle that also lives with his Grandma. After almost tearing his ACL during a midseason game, he is forced out of the Manassas lineup for most of the rest of the season. Money was one of the team’s leaders and a relentless player who also did well academically.
The problems continue to escalate throughout the whole movie, but Courtney continues to find solutions to each test that is presented to him and the team. After getting down early in their first game of the year 14-0, they still lose but come back strong and win out through the rest of the season. Not to spoil anything for the movie, but although the Manassas football team is “Undefeated” at heart, they do not win every game, and those that they win they do not win cleanly.
Bill Courtney is the true hero of this story, somebody who sacrificed a significant chunk of his happy life to find the potential in often forgotten young men. Many high schools have genuine guys like Bill around, but few are as effective as him. He truly got as much as he could out of his players while teaching them valuable life lessons.
Between all the southern accents, the pre-game meetings at local churches and the obvious desire of the kids to improve, this is a genuine movie. It’s a true exploitation of an often-unseen part of the American south – a part that is truly divided between white and black because Martin Luther King was murdered there. There aren’t many better examples of “nothing to something” stories than “Undefeated” out there.