(director: Dan Lindsay/T.J. Martin; cinematographers: Dan Lindsay/T.J. Martin; editors: Dan Lindsay/T.J. Martin; music: Michael Brook/Daniel McMahon/Miles Nielsen; Runtime: 113; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Dan Lindsay/Glen Zipper/Seth Gordon/Ed Cunningham/Rich Middlemas; Weinstein Company; 2011)

A familiar inspirational sports documentary.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A familiar inspirational sports documentary, telling of how for an inner-city North Memphishigh school football team football can be the ticket to a better life. Directors Dan Lindsay and T.J. Martin chronicle the formerly hapless Manassas Tigers football team for the 2009 season. The high school, in their 110-year history, never played in one playoff game and have dedicated the season to win their first playoff game. The white businessman dedicated coach, Bill Courtney, teaches the kids about self-respect, working together, discipline and how to overcome the poverty and violence in their depressed area by striving to be the best they can be.

The film follows the predictable underdog sports formula story, showing how the emotional problems of the players are preventing them from success on the field and then showing how the team came together to overcome their problems and have a chance in their championship game to meet their stated goal. Volunteer Courtney proves himself an able coach on the field and off the field an able mentor to many of these troubled athletes (especially the three players the film focuses on, who must overcome anger management, poor academics and injury), telling us that it’s his belief that ‘football doesn’t build character as much as it reveals character.’

No surprises here. It shows how important it is for these kids to have not only a good game coach but a caring one, but the film is uncritical of football–implying (or at least not making it clear what it means) that success in football is more important to these disadvantaged students than in getting a good education. This film buys into the perverted notion of the American Dream that it’s all about winning the game, which is equated with success in life. Though I applaud the work of the good-guy coach, the sincere conviction of the film, its moving story of how the three players evolved and have no problem with football used as a way of reaching marginalized kids–I just don’t think football is quite as important as the filmmakers think it is for at risk students who want to make a better life for themselves.

REVIEWED ON 12/20/2011 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”