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Overall Rating

Awesome: 31.43%
Worth A Look51.43%
Average: 13.33%
Pretty Bad: 2.86%
Total Crap: 0.95%

9 reviews, 51 user ratings

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Friday Night Lights
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by Erik Childress

"4 Out Of 5 Critics Agree: The BEST Football Movie Ever!"
4 stars

It’s the best football movie I’ve ever seen. That’s my stock answer to everyone who has asked me about this film and is almost all of a review you need. But it’s such a one-note phrase overused and substituted for all genres by all quote whores, now being used by myself about a sport with only a handful of solid films to begin with. North Dallas Forty has been the stock answer for years to pigskin cinema, but in fear of losing a timeout, I challenge anyone to watch the first 15 minutes of Friday Night Lights and not acknowledge that something special is occurring. This is flat-out the rawest, most realistic piece of storytelling about the sport that I’ve, well, you only think you know the rest.

Based on H.G. Bissinger’s best-selling book and already hailed as “one of the top five greatest sports stories of all time” by Sports Illustrated, I was expecting another triumphant underdog story in the vein of Rudy or Remember the Titans. The tide in my skepticism changed almost immediately when discovering that the Permian Panthers of Odessa, Texas were the favorites. It’s one thing to root for the Cubs; an entirely different one to shout for the Yankees. The expectations were so high for these boys in training camp that they were not only trumped for the state championship, but to go undefeated in their pursuit. Now that’s pressure.

The introductory moments of Friday Night Lights maintain a documentarian’s approach and is astounding in how much is established in what I feel is the best opening to any film I’ve seen this year. The brutal practices, the media coverage, alumni snoops, families watching on; just another day at the office for the Panthers. All these variables are juggled with precision by editors Colby Parker Jr. and David Rosenbloom doing Oscar-worthy work just to prepare us for the journey and introduce us to the characters who we wish we could block for.

Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), in his third season, is under intense scrutiny to deliver a winner. Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) is the star running back so in love with his talent that the NFL is destined to find him. Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) is the quiet quarterback with the weight of the world on his shoulder pads and a sick mother he wants to make proud. Tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) is cocky on the field but affronted daily and nightly by his father, Charlie, a former Panther whose life can be summed up by the championship ring he wears.

Those are just a few members of the team we’ll meet along the way; some of them recognized by saying very little at all. Their stories are not treated with grand melodramatic brushstrokes. We’re almost eavesdropping on their most private moments; sides they can’t show on the metaphorical field, for it may get them killed. No one likes sports being compared to war, soldiers or the battlefield (particularly with what’s going on in Iraq.) But putting it all in perspective (as broadcasters and sportswriters are prone to do when feeling guilty about what they cover) this IS a war. It may be rife with allegory but it’s THEIR war. If politicians can declare war whenever they want to incite the public (whether it be on drugs, education or oil) then why not a game molded in the same strategy with the potential to end lives as the players know it?

Whether you’re familiar with the tale or not, I refuse to spoil all of the tribulations for the uninitiated. There’s a healthy dose of anger along with the hope felt by those on the field as well as in the stands, where anything less than “perfect” becomes a rallying cry for failure. How else can anyone justify Saturday morning quarterbacks on the radio calling for jobs after a single loss?

What’s so refreshing about Peter Berg is that you get the sense that he’s a no bullshit director. That was evident in his pitch black comedy, Very Bad Things. With The Rundown, he proved he had the chops to take on something bigger and bring an uniqueness to the buddy action formula we hadn’t seen in a long time. Friday Night Lights is Berg’s calling card, combining all his strengths and talents to deliver what he clearly set out to do, the ultimate football movie. Universal may have binded him to garner a PG-13, but it doesn’t look like it frayed his abilities one bit. Honestly, if the film pushed any harder or was any more brutal to achieve an “R”, I don’t know who would be able to emotionally stomach it.

Praise is due all-around to the key performances. Thornton certainly doesn’t have the showiest role as Coach Gaines (he doesn’t have the profanity crutch of Bad Santa since he was a notorious anti-curser) but he’s a leader, looking out for his own family as well as the one in the locker room. His relationship by QB Winchell all the more effective because of the father-son film history he shares with Lucas Black (who played the boy in Sling Blade and was directed by Thornton in All the Pretty Horses.) Derek Luke deserves to warrant supporting actor consideration as the cocksure Boobie; not the most amiable persona to stand behind, but Luke’s performance earns our sympathy even if the character doesn’t necessarily deserve it. But the biggest surprise is country-recording star Tim McGraw. As the overbearing Charlie Billingsley, McGraw is frightening in his Scorsese-esque portrayal of a man just teetering on the verge of violence at the drop of a bottle. McGraw’s transformation is so stunning that I was no even aware he was in the film until sitting down to write this review.

Friday Night Lights treats its subjects with respect by not flinching when confronting the harsh reality that they are given little choice but to create for themselves. Futures are made and broken over the course of a few months and its disheartening that everything you’ve worked so hard for can be decided over a simple coin flip. From injuries to racial bias to blown calls by the refs, we are put into the bleachers as helpless spectators using our last prayers to root them on. The fate of one subplot is left hanging even through the ending coda and one act of contrition might be the unlikely sap that fans scoff at, but I stand firm behind my stock answer that this is the new standard by which football movies should be measured. Supposedly this story was a major influence on the screenplay for 1998’s mildly entertaining and amusing Varsity Blues. Once and for all, Friday Night Lights puts a stamp on what a joke that film truly was.

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originally posted: 10/08/04 14:03:25
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell very good u should read the book as well both recommened 4 stars
1/15/09 Shaun Wallner Very Interesting 4 stars
5/03/07 David Pollastrini pretty dull 2 stars
10/19/06 alexzander duke it was a great movie one of my best 5 stars
7/04/06 William Goss Mercifully unsentimental, but exhausting in its town pressure and teen angst. 3 stars
3/18/06 Elizabeth Pretty good - worth a rent 4 stars
3/18/06 MP Bartley I detest American Football - yet, this is a great film. Thumpingly heartfelt. 4 stars
3/08/06 Carolyn Rathburn A good hometown movie 4 stars
3/08/06 myzzy Teen flick, not much more.. rent it vs movie theater to save some money 3 stars
3/07/06 Annie G This was ok, but I was sorry I had bought the DVD instead of renting it! 3 stars
1/04/06 Piz Just another "sports meets teenage angst" movies. Seen one, seen em all. 3 stars
12/13/05 joe mieres this movie was very heart felt and i could fell myself in there position. 5 stars
12/09/05 Frank Rountree A movie with a true and good story, can't go wrong here. 4 stars
11/16/05 Jodie GREAT!!!! LOVED IT 5 stars
11/15/05 Taylor Fladgate The only football movie better than "All the right moves" 5 stars
10/27/05 millersxing Failed to connect on a Hoosiers level with either the football or the personal lives 3 stars
10/21/05 Brandon Hudspeth this film was one of the greatest sports films ever made 5 stars
10/06/05 ed garza good 5 stars
8/09/05 Doremimi If watching people cry over football makes you roll your eyes, you'll wanna skip this one. 3 stars
7/10/05 Charlie The plot is pretty good, but Billy Bob is even better. 4 stars
6/09/05 R.W. Welch Engrossing fact-based gridiron yarn. No doubt hyped a bit but effectively done. 4 stars
5/04/05 Romes Best film of 2004 5 stars
3/30/05 Fred An average movie, constant camera angle changes make it seem like a home-made movie 3 stars
2/20/05 HL Nothing Deep Here..A Formula Movie...Bit Overdone...Visual Though 4 stars
2/14/05 Angela Saunders Typical football movie but if you love Tim McGraw or Billy Bob Thornton it is a must see! 4 stars
2/14/05 Jeanine Price Loved this movie 4 stars
2/05/05 Susan Chamberlain Pretty intense. Not a cheer you up movie. 4 stars
2/05/05 Colleen Goldrick good movie 4 stars
2/01/05 Robert Pfeifer A great football movie. Great acting and a nice storyline. 4 stars
1/31/05 Michael Lisanti Fantastic Movie, up there with the orginial Rocky in terms of sports movies. 5 stars
1/30/05 Carl Gorney Has the feel of a documentary-great job by alll 5 stars
1/30/05 Pete H Just because the film doesn't end in the cliche manner, doesn't make it an awesome movie!!! 3 stars
12/12/04 rich cliched, no character developed, lame 2 stars
11/16/04 Mike V One of the darkest and best sports movies ever made 5 stars
11/04/04 Attorneychick Perfect depiction of Texas High School Football! Had no clue Tim McGraw can act?! 5 stars
10/26/04 Cindy It was a geat movie. I really connected with the characters and got involved in the movie. 5 stars
10/24/04 moviedude shows football as the all end all in the texas town, but does nothing else for this viewer. 2 stars
10/23/04 cristi definetly an accurate portrayal of Texas High School football 5 stars
10/19/04 Jake The movie was great, I felt like crying at the end, The music was very well done 5 stars
10/17/04 MR Damn this movie was tight. I'm a big football fan and it was the shit, it delivered. See it 5 stars
10/17/04 Vinnie B It takes guts to make a movie like this that avoids cliches and a feel good ending. 5 stars
10/16/04 mactheknight very good. Did not like all the close-ups 4 stars
10/16/04 Jeremy Burroughs its the best football ive ever seen 5 stars
10/13/04 Elizabeth The agony & ecstacy of football as a microcosm of smalltown life. Poignant and enjoyable. 4 stars
10/13/04 Desperado Great movie, based on a even greater book, Thorton and McGraw (?!) are great 5 stars
10/12/04 JW movie is more "faction" than anything--based on true story but significantly softened 5 stars
10/09/04 Kris Bad Santa teaches football. Who can resist? 5 stars
10/09/04 malcolm distracting camera work. also see "All The Right Moves" and documentary "Go Tigers." 4 stars
10/06/04 Jessica Hedrick more factual than the book it is based on, if you lived in w. texasd you'll love it 4 stars
10/04/04 Josh Standlee The ONLY good football movie is "Waterboy". Don't see this shit!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
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  08-Oct-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-Jan-2005



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