A football season at an inner-city prep school in a down-on-its-luck Tennessee town: the potential site of an utter documentary catastrophe. Despite all the scouting such an enterprise involves, what if nothing happened? In Dan Lindsay and T. J. Martin’s “Undefeated,” luck struck. Dramatic things happened in 2009; documentary kismet was had. (Reportedly, 500 hours of footage was shot as the filmmakers lived among their subjects.) “The Reality Blind Side” it is not. “If you think football builds character, it does not. It reveals character,” the white coach emanates to his African-American charges. Go team America! Would the film be more interesting to someone who is crazy-mad about high school sports or football or the notion that athletic competition is the great social leveler? Yes. Still, to “Undefeated”‘s credit, and to its tear-jerking benefit, Lindsay and Martin craft their narrative as if sports were a valid larger metaphor for some all-American whatsit or something or other that could be mangled confidently in the confines of a presidential debate or an overreaching freelance op-ed column.
Despite its admirable intimacy, issues of race and opportunity are nudged to the side with Hollywood-style alacrity. “Undefeated” won Best Documentary Feature at Sunday night’s Oscars. 113m. (Ray Pride)
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” in words and images will be published in Spring 2022.