It is very satisfying to see a documentary that can elicit a very positive reaction by the time that it is over. Not to be confused with liking a movie because it is good, I am referring to how a film is satisfying not only because it is very good, but because it feels like I was rewarded by its quality, messages, and the people involved in its making. Undefeated, last year’s Oscar winner for Best Documentary, is a fantastic film that really delivers in terms of its story structure, the people we learn about, and the genuine emotion that comes from how things play out over the course of the film. When it comes to documentaries, I have always been one to appreciate those that focus on strong, personal stories, rather than ones with big messages to deliver, so it was not much of a surprise for me to have really loved this movie. Continue on to learn more about this wonderful documentary and how the Blu-ray stacks up.
Undefeated documents the struggles of a high school football team, the Manassas Tigers of Memphis, as they attempt a winning season after years and years of losses. The team is turned around by Coach Bill Courtney, who tries his hardest to turn the Tigers into a winning team that are also inspired to be better as students and people. We learn a lot about the coach, as well as three main kids, who are a part of the team. One is O.C., a heavy set student that is also incredibly fast and could have a promising career in football, if he can get his grades up and get into college. Another kid is ‘Money’, who is too small to really compete after high school, but he is a team player and faces some tough physical challenges during the season. Lastly, there is Chivas, a student recently released form a juvenile delinquency center and clearly has anger issues, but could be great at football and school in general if he stays in control. The film focuses on an entire season of football with the Tigers, where in they finally pull together and win a number of games in a row, which could possibly lead them to becoming champions.
Having this film follow the arc of one season of football was a great way to present this film. There is some backstory given about the school, the team, and the coach, but the film follows the Tigers through one season and it works as the perfect structure to show how the team evolves, what the players go through, and really get us inside the mind of the coach, who would be happy to get wins for the team, but would feel so much better, were he to really get through to these kids on a mental level and expand their integrity for the greater.
Coach Bill is a fascinating character. We learn that he did not have a father growing up, which sets us up with how he wants to look after his players, who face similar issues, as most of them have parents that are either in prison or just not around. What becomes apparent, especially to Bill, is that he has his own family and they do not see him nearly as much as he likes, because he’s so busy coaching this team. It actually becomes heartbreaking and ironic to hear Bill address the fact that he is almost becoming his own father, since he is not with his son, because he is busy acting as a father figure to his players. This is such a significant point that certain developments only amplify the actual results of this film, based on what happens to the team and what Coach Bill’s plans for the future are.
Bill is certainly this documentary’s main character, but I was just as invested in the other players that become the main supporting characters. Money, in particular, was a person that I wanted to learn more of, as he seemed to have the brightest future, but the way drama makes its way into effecting his life had me really invested in the hope that things worked out for him. Chivas is also interesting, as his character goes through a significant evolution over the course of the film, which is best reflected in a certain speech he gives to the other players near the end of the film.
Additionally, while football plays an important role in the film for obvious reasons, it is definitely more of a film that focuses on the people involved. With that said, there is a solid look at the sport, presented in a way that has you just as hopeful as you would be in a regular sports movie. Directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin have done a great job assembling what must be a year’s worth of footage into such an effective real life drama that has to present fully defined characters and a full arc for this film to be able to properly present the story that unfolded during the Tiger’s monumental season of football.
Undefeated is not a film that is screaming, “Emotional manipulation,” but I can surely say that the film is incredibly moving, because of how well assembled it is overall. We are given a true underdog story, with underprivileged athletes given a shot at something thanks to the help of a man who is volunteering his time out of the goodness of his heart. This documentary is fantastic and approaches the same ballpark as a film like Hoop Dreams, as we are given a lot to look at, consider, and be dramatically entertained by.
Undefeated arrives on Blu-ray with a pretty solid 1080p AVC-encoded transfer. The film was shot with handheld cameras and is a documentary after all, so the quality is reflected, but not in a bad way. The film heavily relies on natural lighting of course, and with that we get images that appropriately contain lots of grain and moments of darkness that are not hard to watch, as the black levels are solid and textures feel mostly represented well enough. For a film of this type, there are not many unexpected issues that hinder the viewing experience overall.
Similarly, the audio quality of this Blu-ray reflects the fact that this is a documentary, as opposed to a feature film with challenging audio levels to admire. The film is reliant on us hearing what is going on in the moment and as such, Undefeated delivers. The dialogue is clear throughout. The football games may not be as exciting because it’s not a high gloss film, with the camera in the heat of the action, but this audio mix gets the job done. The use of various music tracks in the background sound fine as well for this 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio track.
Commentaries always go a long way for me and it is fortunate that Undefeated contains one, as I was happy to learn more about the production, given that there are few other extras to be found on this disc.
Feature Commentary with directors Dan Lindsay and TJ Martin
Deleted Scenes – Some interesting footage here, as we learn about another team player.
Black and White Teaser Trailer
Making of Undefeated – At only 8 minutes, there is not a whole lot here, but it is still worth a look.
Undefeated easily joins the ranks of some of my favorite documentaries. The film is moving, but certainly an entertaining watch that had me caught up in the moment, throughout. The people we meet are interesting individuals, who all face challenges that are dealt with over the course of this film. The Blu-ray is solid, with a good handle on its video and audio presentation, given that it was shot with handheld cameras. The extras are few in number, but the commentary makes up for it. Undefeated is an award-winning feature that is worth anyone’s time and I am glad I was able to check it out.