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Friday Night Lights /

Rated: PG-13

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Derek Luke, Garrett Hedlund, Jay Hernandez, Lucas Black

Directed by: Peter Berg

Produced by: Brian Grazer
Written by:
David Aaron Cohen, Peter Berg
Distributor:
Universal Pictures

 

Billy Bob Thornton in Universal Pictures' Friday Night Lights
Director Peter Berg on the set of Universal Pictures' Friday Night Lights
Derek Luke , Billy Bob Thornton , Lucas Black and Lee Thompson Young in Universal Pictures' Friday Night Lights

     My friends tell me that I should regularly be going to my high schoolís varsity football games. I havenít been all that motivated to do so, even though I was on the verge of attending two or three. Thatís not to say that thereís not a million things Iíd rather be doing; Iíd probably toss up the chance to shout and scream and make bets with my gang for watching a zero-bucket movie. However, if I was a student in small-town in Texas and not the suburbia of California, I can guarantee you that the circumstances would be different. In Friday Night Lights, the entire redneck community shows up for the high school football games as if they were Church-Services on Sunday. These are all fairly sympathetic and interesting people, and their obsession with the game doesnít even seem to be all that unhealthy. It certainly places a lot of pressure on the players, though.

     This is all that Friday Night Lights wants to be about: the players and their surroundings. They jock-talk and ram and run into each other and sit on the bench a bunch. This is not a movie that indulges in stupid, underdog stakes and melodramatically finishes amidst grins and tears of joy. All that goes on, throughout the duration, is football. Period. Practice after practice, scream after scream, and play after play. Itís actually rather enthralling. I donít think there is a scene in the movie in which the characters are not discussing or doing something regarding the sport. The sole focus on the game, in Friday Night Lights, shows how dedicated the troupe of high school boys is, to their team. They are expected to be unbeatable, together. Even when they lose their star player, played by Derek Luke, and the town loses much faith in them, the team still feels morally obligated to make it to the championship CIF game.

     Billy Bob Thorton plays Coach Gary Gaines, who has even more responsibility than the boys on his team. When he puts Lukeís Boobie Miles into play when the team has an obvious lead, he is deemed responsible for the playerís injury by almost everyone in the town. Thorton combines the mixture of internal angst and love his character has for the game with the stereotypical, but all too true, behaviors of the standard high school football coach. His screen presence isnít so much fiery as it is firm, as he is both annoyed with the townspeopleís obsession with the Permian High School Team and humbled by their patronage. Even when the script pushes the border between realism and sappiness, Thorton keeps the tone of the film nail-biting, and entirely believable. Alongside him, Lucas Black plays Permian quarterback, Mike Winchell, very well.

     The film was written and directed by Peter Berg, who I knew was talented back when I saw the mediocre Rock-picture The Rundown, despite his choosing to make that dead-on-arrival project. His style is emphasizes the parallel between football and religion, and works rather well. Two of the men backing him are also notable talents: cinematographer Tobias A. Schliessler and composer David Torn. Schliesslerís shaky cam, with constant zoom action, makes the mood of the movie even tenser than the actors do; atmospherically, Friday Night Lights could be considered a minor-masterpiece. Tornís score for the film is especially daring, as well. Using a blues-like guitar, it also contributes greatly to the feel of the motion picture.

     Friday Night Lights is bound to receive criticism about not having many aspirations, story-wise, but I would call its unconventional look at a ďgreat sports storyĒ more ambitious than most other movies in its genre. In addition, it does what it sets out to do superbly, and that speaks volumes, in my book. I will prefer an ambitious and efficient film to one that is ridiculously complex and only half-successful, ninety-nine out of a hundred times. Friday Night Lights is a perfect example of this.

-Danny, Bucket Reviews (10.16.2004)


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