Burn The Game Tape – “Undefeated” (2011)

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Photo via TexasHSFootball.com

 

Every Tuesday, we’re jumping in and reviewing football movies until the season starts. Enjoy!

HUNTER: Alright, let’s start this one off. First impressions?

KYLE: I feel like the title spoils the movie. Kidding! Talk about the most misleading title since “Moonlight”, which had nothing to do with the space race with Russia… like I assumed.

I can see where an outsider to the Friday Night Lights is moved by a very inspiring story — which in parts it was — but when you’re around these programs as much as we are, it almost feels like work. This happens more than people realize. I enjoyed the movies, but the stories weren’t incredibly unique to me. Reminded me a lot of the gridiron version of “Hoop Dreams”, which documents every poor high school sports team ever.

Each player we followed had the stereotypical tropes of an athlete; one kid becomes the dude from “The Blind Side” and gets his grades up; another one is violent and angry, but turns it around at the end; the student known as “Money” is upbeat, tears his knee, spirals and finds hope at the close of the season. Whenever I watch these kinds of documentaries that only focus on a handful of kids, I instantly feel bad for the rest.

HUNTER: And that’s where we differ on this. I understand the call to not focus on every single kid, only the ones with interesting stories. Yes, they’re stereotypical, but it’s a documentary, not fiction. They aren’t unique stories, and that’s probably the biggest tragedy in all of this.

All in all, I definitely enjoyed it more than other documentaries. In a lot of ways it’s a commentary on the effects that money can have on your program, which is something that’s always bubbling on the surface of high school and college sports but never really stated. For example, does anyone believe that Alabama would become the juggernaut that they are without throwing a small fortune at Nick Saban and the rest of his staff?

Yeah, it can get cliché, and I would’ve liked to see these in-depth concepts explored further instead of being introduced to it then just leaving it alone, but it’s still a good thing that we’re introduced. You don’t find those concepts in many sports films, documentary or otherwise, these days.

KYLE: With the glut of content we now have with streaming services, this is the kind of movie that would probably be relegated to an E:60 special or a potential 30 for 30 doc. You could tell they were working on a micro-budget, judging from the grain in the film — especially during the night shots. I’m really curious why they chose this school over all others.

Also, I’m not buying that Chavis turned it around so quickly. I wonder if the directors told the coach to keep him in, just for the drama of the documentary. He was two seconds away from becoming Michael B. Jordan’s character in “Hardball”, but a lengthy suspension turned him around real quick. Maybe it humbled him, but who knows.

Also, shout out to P. Diddy aka Puff Daddy as executive producer on this one.  

HUNTER: Well, it’s a fairly old documentary (2011) in terms of where we’re at now with ultra-HD, but I like the grainy, gritty feel. It feels realistic, it feels like you’re on the turf with them more than in some ridiculous superdefinition where you can see every individual bead of sweat. I do agree with you on one aspect though, while I thought it was really good, I’m not so sure about the 96% on Rotten Tomatoes.

I enjoyed it, it was good, it made me feel something, it made me think about the inherent conflict of economics and sports, and that’s about all I can ask for. My grade is a 3.5/5.

KYLE: I feel like the primary focus of this documentary was more about coach Bill Courtney and his impact on the community, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: coach Courtney is the founder of Man Rise, an organization that gives financial support to help five city schools with their football programs. He does his charity work, turning his riches into benefits for the underprivileged. However, the harsh reality is, most of those kids are probably still struggling to this day. The whole socioeconomic differences were clearly stated, but giving three of 50+ kids some kind of opportunity without showing that the rest will probably work at Bill’s lumber company made me feel like the audience was short-changed.

I did enjoy the realness of it; watching the team lose in the first round by 1-point, and avoiding the tropes of a Rocky-esque ending was heartbreaking. Really reminded me of the conclusion of “Friday Night Lights”. Moral of the story: poverty is real, and football may be the only reprieve for some of these kids in areas ravaged by economic turmoil following the evacuation of a corporation. I just would have liked to know what happened when the final whistle was blown and the student athletes had to remove their pads and face whatever struggles waited for them outside of the locker room. 3/5  

FINAL GRADE: 3.25/5

 

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