Undefeated (2011)

Director: Daniel Lindsay & T.J. Martin
Plot: A documentary on an underdog football team who look to reverse their fortunes with coach Bill Courtney.

Genre: Documentary
Awards: Won 1 Oscar - Best Documentary Feature
Runtime: 113min
Rating: PG13 for some language.



I guess it takes a good old underdog story to get an Oscar. This American sports documentary does not offer much to audiences, except that it manipulates their emotions wholeheartedly. Like any other such films before it, documentary or otherwise, Undefeated takes the standard formula of the underdog sports movie, repeats it shamelessly, and markets itself as an inspirational film.

The result is surprisingly a positive one. Short of saying that it deserved the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature (I'm sure there were better documentaries produced in 2011), I prefer to see it as that life-affirming picture that comes once in a while.

Undefeated centers on an all-black American football school team and their motivational white coach named Bill Courtney. The school team have never won a playoff before in their entire not-so-illustrious history dating back to the late 19th century.

The documentary captures the pursuits of this fragile team as they attempt to change the history books under their strong-willed coach. Of course, there are problems with injury, discipline, and morale. But the directors Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin focus on how one family man decides to give his all, and commit to developing a team worthy of reaching a playoff match, frequently at the expense of his wife and children.

Undefeated is not spectacular in the sporting sense, though there is effort put in to drive up the suspense in the climatic playoff game. The camera captures the action with clarity, so even viewers like myself who are clueless about American football can at least make some sense of the chaos on the field.

Undefeated goes further than the standard sports documentary about teamwork and resilience; it also explores the plight of the African-Americans in a small county. Football gives them hope for a better future. Undefeated gives more screen time to a particular trio who have reaped the most benefits out of playing football. Their stories are uplifting, yet for some strange reason, Courtney's perseverance to succeed packs a more emotional punch.

Undefeated may be one of the more conventional Oscar-winning documentaries to hit the screens for some time, but it plays to conventions well. If you ever need something to motivate your ailing sports team, you’ll do no wrong with this, or you can always go with Brad Pitt, Moneyball (2011) or otherwise.

Verdict: You don't need to understand American football to be touched by the exploits of an underdog school team and their motivational coach.


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