Saturday 11 August 2012


The winner of the 2012 Oscar for Best Documentary, Undefeated charts a season for the underperforming high school team, the Manassas Tigers, and their coach, eager to guide them to victory and leave a lasting legacy.

The team from Manassas, Tennessee have been built up from nothing over the last six years by volunteer coach Bill Courtney. The town crumbled when it was hit by factory closures, but the local football team was already in a mess, having never won a play off game in the teams 100 years history. Under-funded and previously a team for hire for the bigger teams to beat down on, Coach Courtney finds himself starting the season with the best team he's ever had, hoping to steer this group of young black men to victory.

Fond of delivering inspirational speeches even the greatest Hollywood scriptwriters would struggle to come up with, Courtney is not only a great documentary subject but a great man, devoting all of his spare time to the Manassas Tigers and these young men, pushing them academically as well as on the field. Likewise, the team want to re-pay this chubby, middle-aged white guy for giving them a chance.

In the world of documentary filmmaking the word 'inspirational' gets banded about a bit too often, tagged onto anything that makes you think (which is kind of the point of a documentary anyway). Well, it's imposssible to talk about this film without using the word, as Undefeated may be the epitome of inspirational sports documentaries. In fact, they might as well print this film's story next to 'inspirational' in the dictionary.

A knowledge of the ins and outs of American Football is not needed, just the understanding that the Tigers need to win as many games as possible in order to reach the play-offs. Rather than following the whole team, the film focuses on key characters through their ups and downs throughout the year; from the angry ex-con hothead, the nice guy hit by injury to the big guy relying on football to be his livelihood. They're all real, different people, and it's quite touching to see how some of them grow across the year.

Featuring some gut-wrenching scenes of emotion, these strong, silent young men try to surpass the low expectations other have of them, guided brilliantly by Coach Courtney. The film may be a touch too long, but when the final act comes around it's like a little bonus to the film that you need to know the outcome of. It may be similar territory to Friday Night Lights, but by getting to know some of these guys it feels all the more affecting.

It's a fantastic subject to cover, and the perfect storm of highs and lows to be documentary gold. Courtney is a great find; the kind of man you find it hard to believe exists in real life. The story is almost too ridiculously moving to be true; a perfect, heart-warming drama that never fails to be uplifting. One of the great underdog stories.



  1. AAAAAhhhhh I LOVED it. And went into it knowing less that nothing about American football.
    I welled up at least 3 times and shouted support for Manassas more. Personal highlight, Money showing off his tortoise with some profound words.
    If I haaaaaaaad to criticise it I would say that at some points it does feel a little bit like the film could be called Rich White Men Solve Poverty. But hey, that's just cynicism.

  2. I agree, there is definitely a bit of that to the story, but I think it works in documentary form. If this was a feature film it'd come across like the Blind Side part 2, which is not a good thing. Glad you liked it!