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Friday Night Lights

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Friday Night Lights

Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Derek Luke
Director: Peter Berg
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 117 Minutes
Release Date: October 2004
Genres: Drama, Sports

*Also starring: Garrett Hedlund, Jay Hernandez, Lucas Black, Lee Thompson Young, Connie Britton, Tim McGraw, Lee Jackson, Josh Berry, Paul Wright, Dennis Hill, Kevin Page

Review by Harvey Karten
2½ stars out of 4

Where we live makes a difference in how we react to events in our neighborhoods. If you live as I do in New York City, your sporting life could revolve around shopping at Zabar's and Citarella's, though if you're a sports fan at all, you'd go for the professional teams–New York Rangers, New York Giants, and the like. If you live in Odessa, Texas, which is admittedly a dying town, your cultural life will revolve around football, with a big but. You're going to be sectionalistic rather than nationalistic and pin your hopes on the successes of your own West Texas home team, namely the Permian Panthers, the MoJo team of Odessa. It's difficult for a big city guy like me to understand what looks to me like provincialism. Just how good can a high- school team be–when compared to pro-ball and like college football institutions like the fighting Irish of Notre Dame? At any rate "Friday Night Lights" is said to be a true story–about a high- school team that won five state championships in thirty years. In this particular tale, the subject of Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist H.G. Bissinger's book by the same name, the focus is largely on the fighting spirit of the players who are inspired by a great coach but also appears to cast a satirical eye on townspeople who seem to have no off-work lives save for their rooting for their boys and their pigskin.

Featuring a strong, but not particularly Oscar-worthy performance of Billy Bob Thornton as Coach Gaines, director Peter Berg uses a screenplay he co-wrote with David Aaron Cohen from H.G. Bissinger's book, "Friday Night Lights" to give us a fly-on-the-wall trip into Permian-Odessa High school's football team. Our concentration is on particular players such as Boobie (Derek Luke), number 45 in the lineup and the town's heroic point man, and also Brian (Jay Hernandez), Lucas (Mike Winchell), and Don (Garrett Hedlund). Despite this focus, we learn almost nothing about them as individuals, as Peter Berg is more intent on showing how they pass, block and run than on what makes they run on the inside. Though all are seniors at the school (looking more like the twenty-something that the actors really are), there is little talk about college or about future plans, though as an epilogue we find out that these people, having each garnered their fifteen minutes of fame, wind up with staid jobs like insurance sales and the like. While individual character is not the forte of this production, Berg does succeed in showing up how high-school football is a secular religion in this West Texas town, the shopkeepers closing up when each big competition is one with signs proclaiming "Gone to the game."

Cinematographer Tobias Schlissler put us on the fifty-yard line and then some, honing on the expressions of the individuals, their passion for the sport, the willingness to give all in the hope of victory. In fact when the star player, Boobie, hurts his knee and a radiologist recommends that he wait the season out, Boobie physically attacks the doctor and tears up the chart. David Rosenbloom and Colby Parker Jr.'s frantic editing, presumably to show us in the audience how frenetic the activities are, serves instead as a distraction almost as bad as the intrusive soundtrack. As sports films go, "Friday Night Lights" is OK, but not at all the groundbreaker some critics have pronounced it to be.

Copyright © 2004 Harvey Karten

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