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"Friday Night Lights" Movie Review


Jay Hernandez and Lucas Black in "Friday Night Lights."
Photo © Universal Pictures
 Related Resources

• "Friday Night Lights" Cast Interviews, Credits and Trailer
• Billy Bob Thorton Interviews and Movies
• "Friday Night Lights" Photo Gallery
 

The message in “Friday Night Lights” doesn't just apply to the sport of football. And you don't need to love football or be able to tell the difference between a wide receiver and a running back to understand and appreciate what writer/director Peter Berg has managed to do with this gritty, realistic look at a small town's favorite pastime.

Based on Pulitzer Prize-winner H.G. Bissinger's best-selling novel, Berg (who just happens to be the author's cousin) has brought to the screen a story just as relevant today as when it was written a dozen years ago. "Friday Night Lights" chronicles one year in the lives of Permian Panthers football players who are under unrelenting pressure to live up to impossibly high expectations.

If you've played any type of organized sport, you've seen those parents on the sidelines. You know the ones. They scream at the top of their lungs, jump up and down and wave their arms furiously, and generally make a spectacle of themselves over their child's athletic performance. Those parents would fit in perfectly in the town of Odessa, Texas during the 1988 football season brought to life in “Friday Night Lights.”

Obsessively supportive of their local high school's team, the citizens of Odessa close down the town when the Permian Panthers take to the field. Now, not all of the good townsfolk go overboard cheering on their favorite football team. No, some are simply supportive fans out for a good time and hoping for the best for their kids. After all, this is a tiny town with a tradition of winning. Football helps to boost morale in Odessa, a city that's struggling to survive. But some take it too seriously. Every game is life or death. The players are treated like rock stars. The coach's job hangs in the balance on a weekly basis. For sale signs show up in Coach Gaines' (Billy Bob Thornton who turns in yet another top-notch performance) front yard after a loss, and the radio station has hours of programming dedicated to analyzing every play, every move on the field, and every minute misstep by the coach. These kids – 16, 17, 18 year-olds – feel more pressure to succeed than most professional athletes have to deal with.

“Friday Night Lights” follows true events from one season in the lives of the Permian Panthers, from spring training to the final showdown in the Houston Astrodome. Peter Berg and cinematographer Tobias Schliessler capture brutally vivid footage that looks almost as authentic as real NFL films. The only criticism I have of the film has to do with the director's choice of shooting with a handheld camera, making even intimate dialogue scenes appear shaky. I can understand the reason behind shooting the majority of the football sequences in that manner, but not every scene needed that sort of shaky treatment.

The actors who play featured roles, namely Derek Luke, Lee Jackson, Lee Thompson Young, Garrett Hedlund, Lucas Black, and country star Tim McGraw, are totally believable and provide the film with its heart, but it's really the game of football itself that's the shining star of this Hollywood production. Football and Billy Bob Thornton, that is. Thornton delivers a measured, controlled performance, which brings out the best in the actors who surround him in "Friday Night Lights."

Simply put, “Friday Night Lights” is one of the best movies about high school sports made in the last decade. The film does a terrific job of showing the competitive nature of not just the kids but their parents, the pressure put on teenagers to perform, and the high price to be paid for wanting to excel at all costs. It also manages to show how playing sports in high school helps teenagers bond, builds discipline and teamwork, and teaches life lessons while in most cases, though not necessarily as much in this film as in most high school sports programs, still letting the kids have fun.

GRADE: B+

"Friday Night Lights" was directed by Peter Berg and is rated PG-13 for thematic issues, sexual content, language, some teen drinking and rough sports action.

"FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS" RESOURCES:
"Friday Night Lights" Photo Gallery
"Friday Night Lights" Credits, Trailer and Cast Interviews

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