Coach Bill Courtney comes across as a completely selfless man in 'Undefeated.' He's a man who is determined to stymie the cycle of defeatism that pervades inner-city school kids. Watching him work with the student athletes at Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee was genuinely endearing. Most of the youth he coaches have fathers who are either deceased or out of the picture. Courtney inserts himself as surrogate father figure in their lives, trying to build up what the harsh world has caused to crumble.
'Undefeated' is a documentary about a previously destitute football team. For years they were the laughing stock of Memphis. They were so bad that many of the schools in the state would pay them to come and, as Courtney puts it, "…get [their] asses kicked." Newspaper headlines fly by, one reads: Whipping-boy.
Part of the reason the team is so terrible is because they're dreadfully underfunded. Courtney is a volunteer coach, meaning he isn't getting paid to be there. Which is hard to fathom since he spends just about every waking moment either thinking about the team or coaching the kids.
What's refreshing about the way Courtney approaches football is that he realizes that it isn't the be-all-end-all in these kid's lives. The movie makes his message perfectly clear. He's trying to reach at-risk kids. He's trying to teach them lifelong lessons of teamwork, service, and sacrifice through the window of a sport that most of them will only play at the high school level. His hope is that if he can get his team to win, hopefully it will spur the kids into doing better off the field. With any luck most of them will graduate high school, making better lives for themselves.
The rag-tag team is comprised of dozens of players, but the documentary chooses three of them to follow specifically. O.C. Brown is a big boy with a large heart and the only one of the kids with a real shot at playing at the college level. Montail "Money" Brown is a kind, soft-spoken kid who does everything right, but still ends up injuring his ACL mid-season. Chavis Daniels is the team's wildcard. He can be extremely good at football, except his hair-trigger temper usually gets the best of him. Almost seems like the perfect recipe for a plucky fictional sports drama, right? It's all too easy to forget that you're watching a documentary.
'Undefeated' won the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2011. Its inspirational tale doesn't just highlight the finite importance of winning football games. It's really a story about lifting others up. Giving kids a chance to succeed even when failure threatens to engulf them at every turn. What Courtney is able to achieve with Chavis is mesmerizing. His tough love is just what these kids need.
Coach Courtney is fond of a saying about a person's character. He drills it into his players. "The measure of a man’s character is not determined by how he handles his wins, but how he handles his failures." Repeating this axiom takes hold of the team and propels them to new heights, not only in football but in life.
Thankfully, the movie's title isn't actually a spoiler. It's more of a metaphor for the character these kids must have in order to rise out of their circumstances. All they need is someone like Courtney to give them that push to succeed.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This is an Anchor Bay release. It comes on a 25GB Blu-ray Disc, is packaged in a standard keepcase, and is labeled as Region A on the case.
Being a documentary, the video quality varies wildly from scene to scene depending on the circumstances surrounding the filming. In addition, there's also a lot of footage culled from home video cameras and other pixelated sources.
That said, the 1080p picture shown here is quite striking most of the time. For a documentary, featuring hand-held cameras, and extreme close-ups the movie looks rather good. Sure the picture, at times, can be overly grainy, specifically during darkly lit scenes, but the detail is there. Interviews with Coach Courtney feature extremely tight close-ups on his face. Here you can see enormous amounts of detail like skin blemishes, pores, and lip lines. The detail looks great whenever the camera zooms in. Sweat and acne can be seen on the players as they take of their helmets during practice. Dirt, grass stains, and splashes of mud can all be seen clearly on the players' uniforms.
Darker scene and some interior shots are a little flat though. The game time sequences often suffer in the lower light. Blacks don't seem to have as much depth as they possibly could. The somewhat inconsistent grain structure feels overwhelming at times.
I didn't notice an egregious examples of artifacting in the movie. Colors were striking for the most part. For a documentary, 'Undefeated' pulls off a solid video transfer.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track was quite immersive though. There was a good use of the surrounds going on as the movie covered incidents from the intimate to the raucous. Fidelity and dialogue were strong and clear.
The surround mix featured some wonderful ambient sound during the team's games and practices. Sparse crowds can be heard cheering on the team. During practice's players are heard crashing into each other's pads as they participate in tackling drills. Courntey's voice booms throughout the soundfield whether he's chewing someone out, or whispering encouragement.
Directional effects, especially during the on-field football moments, features great dynamics. The sound transports itself from one side of the soundfield to the other as players traverse the field, dodging tackles. This is a nicely done sound mix, especially for a doc.
This isn't just a story about a football team that crawls out of the gutter and makes a name for themselves. This is a story about kids who change their circumstances and the coach who makes it all possible. The sacrifice that Coach Courtney endures for these kids is superhuman. With solid video and really strong audio this Oscar-winning documentary comes recommended for everyone.