Bill Courtney is hard, motivated, completely badass, and he runs the show. When listening to him on-screen in “Undefeated,” I wanted to get up and better my life, so I can only imagine how intimidating and inspirational he is one-on-one.
“Undefeated” is a straightforward documentary about the Manassas Tigers, an inner-city high school football team in Memphis. We get a deep look into their lives on and off the field during their 2009 football season. Traditionally, the Tigers were the subordinate team in the league, but everything changed when Courtney, a former high school football coach turned lumber salesman, stepped up to the plate.
With Courtney in the picture, the team suddenly has a chance at the state championship. What’s spectacular about Courtney is that his primary focus is for the kids to go on to college versus winning the championship. I don’t think there are enough coaches like that, and it’s fantastic he is getting this exposure since he truly did change these children’s lives.
When the film begins, we are reminded of a little of “Friday Night Lights” with a touch of “The Blind Side,” a story which I was completely moved by. But “Undefeated” excels at what these two films couldn’t do, and that’s put us right in the action and emotions of these complicated teenagers.
To watch the bond between the coach and the teammates evokes so much inspiration and wonder. You really don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy this documentary. I’m not much for football, and I was still very much engaged with the overall journey of difficulties and triumph these kids’ had to endure.
One spectacular scene really stood out for me. One of the players has tremendous anger issues and in his rage decides to quit the team and walk home. Courtney walks after him, pleading with him how the good of the team can help him, and it would be a mistake to quit. Even in between all the cursing, the coach offers the kid a ride home in good faith. This is why documentary can beat out fiction because of the truth at the core.
“Undefeated” is an interesting tale of how motivation and teamwork can change your life and you don’t have to be a sports fan to get it. The movie took home the Best Documentary honors at this year’s Academy Awards.