riday Night Lights" isn't the kind of high
school football movie you'd expect, and in fact it bears little resemblance
Blues" and its ilk. It's a sharply drawn portrait of a town and a
football team, providing insights that ring with emotional resonance
throughout. In the end, the film is memorable not only as a sports film, but
as a sociological drama.
Probably the most telling scene
in the film is when Permian quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) is
meeting with college recruiters. After being asked by one of the recruiters
if he likes playing football, Mike simply stares back blankly at the man.
The recruiter reminds him it's supposed to be fun, that it's just a game.
Another blank look. After watching "Friday Night Lights" you can
see why the question would get such a reaction. When football is what your
existence revolves around, it's hard to enjoy it.
Mike lives in Odessa, Texas, a town with strong ties to the oil industry.
And as the industry goes, so too goes the town. And right now the town is in
an economic slump, with little prospects left for anyone. There's not much
for the kids in this small town to hope for except a football scholarship
that will get them beyond the city limits as fast as humanly possible. The
fact that the town is obsessed with the Permian Panthers to an insane degree
doesn't help matters. When 17-year old kids are lionized like sports legends
and expected to perform perfectly on the field, it puts pressures on a
teenager -- the kind of pressure that even most adults can't handle.
"Friday Night Lights" follows the Permian
Panthers from their first practice to the final game of the season on
their quest for the State Championship. The film is directed by actor
turned director Peter Berg ("The
Rundown"), who guides the narrative by expertly weaving in the
personal stories with the gridiron action. Berg also seems to have rented
Oliver Stone's "Any
Given Sunday" and watched it repeatedly before filming, because
"Lights" uses a lot of the same jarring camerawork and quick
edits on the field to showcase the brutality of the sport. It works
incredibly well, and you feel it every time a player is tackled or slammed
into the grass.
Adding to the authenticity is the fact that Berg
blends in actual footage from the Panthers' 2003 season into the game
scenes and uses some of the actual team's assistant coaches to fill up the
ranks of the movie's coaching staff. It's a nice subtle trick and it works
-- at times you feel like you're watching a documentary instead of a
As Permian head coach Gary Gaines, Billy Bob Thornton ("The
Alamo") is excellent as possibly one of the few people in town
who has things in perspective. Gaines coaches with fire and passion, but
also seems astonished, and at times horrified, that the town life revolves
around the team more than his does. Another great performance is by Derek
Fisher") as the team's star running back Boobie Miles. Our first
introduction to him is as a cocky player who sees a bright future for
himself. That all changes when he's injured during the first game, and
suddenly has to face a very uncertain future. Lucas Black also gives a
heartbreaking performance as Mike Winchell, a young man who desperately
wants to escape Odessa but is held back by his seriously ill mother.
In the end, "Friday Night Lights" isn't
just a high school football movie. It's about a town that has lost hope in
life and in the future, and now has come together to pin their very
existence on a group of high school kids who play five months out of the
year. It's an exhilarating film that is always surrounded by an aura of
tragedy, making it recommended viewing for any moviegoer.