Friday Night Lights


Directed by: Peter Berg
Written by:David Aaron Cohen, Peter Berg
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund, Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez, Lee Jackson
Released: March 10, 2005
Grade: B+

The world loves sport.  It brings out the competitive urges in us all.  Soccer may be the world-wide game but in America, there’s a brand of football which it can call its own – gridiron.  Their passion and the fanaticism for this game would rival even the craziest English soccer supporters.

Odessa is a small community in western Texas which serves as the background to Friday Night Lights.  In 1988, writer H.G. Bissinger followed the fortunes of the high school football team, the Permian High Panthers, and their pursuit of the State Championship.  I haven’t read Bissinger’s book but I’m told it provides an honest look inside the culture associated with high school football.

The cinematic version of Bissinger’s novel focuses on the coach and a select group of players.  Billy Bob Thornton (Bad Santa) plays Coach Gary Gaines and you’ll see the intense scrutiny from a town in which any loss is deemed unacceptable.  Lucas Black (All The Pretty Horses) plays quarterback Mike Winchell, an intensely-focused player looking to use his sporting talent as a platform to a college scholarship.  Garrett Hedlund (Troy) is runner Don Billingsley, a party-loving teenager struggling to live up to his father’s high expectations.  Derek Luke (Antwone Fisher) is Boobie Miles, the star of the team but battling an injury which threatens his future dreams of playing professionally.

There are more characters than those I’ve listed but you can see from my brief outline that one shouldn’t think this is stereotype free.  We’ve got the over-bearing parents, the dreams of going to college and escaping a dead-end town, and the coach who is always misunderstood.  Everyone of these topics has been covered in other teen football flicks including Varsity Blues and Remember The Titans.

It may not be anything new but Friday Night Lights is helped by the realisation that this is a true story.  I’m sure it’s had a touch with the cosmetic brush but the results of the matches and the ultimate conclusion is as it really happened.  I particularly seeing what became of all the players after high-school (in a short blurb at the very end).

Actor turned director Peter Berg (Welcome To The Jungle) is behind the camera and gives the film a grainy-documentary like style.  With several hand-held cameras and many quick zoom-ins and zoom-outs, you feel closer to the action and you’d think it was shot back in 1988 as it happened (rather than as a re-enactment).  It’s a good look.

Whilst it won’t be as popular in Australia as it has been in the States, Friday Night Lights is a half-decent sporting film.  Perhaps most importantly, I remember feeling a tingle down my spine when watching some of the final matches.  For me, that’s a benchmark for any sporting film.  If I’ve become emotionally connected with the characters, stereotypes aside, it’s done its job.