BLU REVIEW: Undefeated

THE SET-UP
A documentary team follows the football team of Manassas High School in West Memphis, as they try to end decades of futility and win the first playoff game in the school’s history. 
Directed by Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin 

THE DELIVERY
The winner of the 2011 Academy Award for Best Documentary, Undefeated is not about football, but rather about a group of high school athletes who find a purpose, and a future, through the sport. Documentarians Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin avoid the usual trappings of football movies, for the most part. There’s plenty of football action to be sure, but besides the final game shown in the film, the focus is on a handful of players and their coach, Bill Courtney.

The school, Manassas High in West Memphis, had never had a football playoff win in its 108 year history and the documentary crew just happened to catch lightning in a bottle by capturing the team’s best season in decades. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but you might want to hold on to the Kleenex, whether you are a sports fan or not.

Directors Lindsay and Martin do not gloss over the imperfections of Coach Courtney and the players themselves. Manassas is in one of the poorest neighborhoods in West Memphis, and the only way many of these students will go to college is by scholarship. The film focuses on three players: O.C. Brown (a talented linemen who has the eye of a number of colleges), “Money” Brown (a good kid without the size and talent of O.C.), and Chavis Daniels (a talented player with attitude problems). 

The film provides an unfiltered look at the three, with imperfections laid bare. Uniting them is Coach Bill Courtney, a volunteer coach who has brought respectibility to a team that was once the laughing stock of the state. Anyone who has ever played football will connect with the film immediately, but even those who don’t follow the sport will find themselves sucked in to nicely-constructed human drama that plays out on the field and in the locker room. You see their personal struggles, their failures, and their successes. Few documentaries get this personal.

Constructing a film (much less a documentary) with so many characters often makes it difficult to connect with the viewer, but directors Lindsay and Martin keep the focus tight, and by the final five minutes of the film, the emotional investment pays off. Undefeated is both touching and triumphant, without being too melodramatic. You’ll understand exactly why it won over Academy voters, who rarely recognize sports films. It’s one of the best films of 2011, of any genre. Don’t miss it.

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VIDEO AND AUDIO
The film was shot on HD video, and for the most part, it looks very good. It does have its limitations, however. The image suffers in low light, and struggles with color balance. Thankfully, as you learn from the commentary, the directors hired out sports videographers for most of the games, and you can tell. The football action looks great, and you rarely miss a play. Documentaries are never going to be reference material for home theaters, and while Undefeated’s technical presentation has some drawbacks, it is solid enough to enjoy without being distracting. Audio is a decent Dolby Digital 5.1 mix.

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SPECIAL FEATURES
Directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin provide an excellent audio commentary to the film, reveaing how the documentary evolved from focusing on one player to the entire team. Their insights are fairly candid, and it is interesting to hear how the pair were able to capture so much of the inner workings of the team and personal moments with the players. It is well worth a listen after you’ve seen the film.

Six deleted scenes are included, and unlike deleted scenes on other Blu-rays, you’ll actually enjoy these. They include another storyline covering another player on the team, that the directors decided was one too many. There is more backstory to some of the players included here as well, and it is a nice addition to the disc.

A short “making of” featurette (under ten minutes) is included as well, with some good interviews, and a trailer rounds out the extras.

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THE BOTTOM LINE: BUY IT OR REDBOX IT?
Ratings (1-10 scale)
Movie: 9
Video: 7
Audio: 7
Extras: 8
Overall grade: 7.75 

Undefeated is a great human drama disguised as a sports film. It is an exceptional look at the struggle for inner city kids to find personal worth and hope. The Blu-ray is an absolute buy. You’ll enjoy it.

BLU-RAY SPECS

Release Date: February 19, 2013

Running time: 114 minutes

Rating: PG-13 (language)

Aspect ratio: 1.78:1

Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles: English for the deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish

Special features: “Making Of” featurette, six deleted scenes, trailer.

Audio commentary: with directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin

Click here to order Undefeated on Blu-ray from Amazon!