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'Undefeated' review: There won't be a dry eye in the crowd

FootballKyle ChandlerAcademy Awards

***1/2 (out of four)

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

The “Friday Night Lights” motto wonderfully, movingly comes to life in the Oscar-winning story of Coach Bill Courtney and Manassas High School, an underfunded Memphis school whose football program lost its luster as the town lost jobs following the closing of a Firestone plant. Courtney, a volunteer who spends more time with his players than with his wife and four kids, would love to coach the guys to the school’s first playoff win in its 110-year history. However, like Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) on “Friday Night Lights,” Courtney is more interested in getting his players’ minds right.

Football doesn’t build character, Courtney says. Football reveals it.

Set during the team’s 2009 season, this expertly made doc emphasizes three players. O.C. Brown is an unusually speedy, 300-pound lineman whose potential for college ball plummets in the face of a 12 on his ACT tests. Chavis Daniels could be a leader if he didn’t have such an anger problem. And “Money,” who’s undersized for a right tackle, knows his 3.8 GPA will serve him better in the future than athletics. Their stories, though lacking in the sort of detail that would really make us feel like we know them, are tear-jerkers of the finest variety.

This doc has a huge heart and a brain unafraid to consider issues of class and race without lecturing. At the risk of sounding corny, this movie captures kids motivated to leave it all on the field. Even if the team loses, these guys already have won.

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com. @mattpais

 

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