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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 Marc Kandel

"A film for the sports-hater in all of…in the few of us."
4 stars

Don’t follow much sport aside from a few Philly teams (which oftentimes aren’t worth watching), don’t care, and yet I would not hesitate to recommend this film as it is a competent, entertaining view of not just the vagaries and complexities of High School Football (off the field more so than on), and more interestingly the Texas town that cleaves to it as a lifeline which they fail to see is wrapped around their throats.

Life in Odessa, TX revolves the Permian “Mojo” High Panthers, a football team that bears more resemblance to a NFL training camp than a high school, the stakes and pressures as overwhelming and oppressive as the blazing Texas sun that unceasingly bakes the town. The only time the audience, and the Odessa population do get relief from the heated orange atmosphere is within the night confines of the stadium as the dazzling spots wash outward with the film’s titular pure, sparkling white illumination and the heroes come out for good or ill.

About fifteen minutes into Friday Night Lights you’re going to wonder what happened to the whipped cream covered cheerleaders, inspirational coach pep talks (save one, which is tailored to mean something by film’s end without bludgeoning the audience with rehashed cliché) and .3 second to end of 4th Quarter Hail Mary/fake-out touchback plays that abound in the countless feel-good football films that substitute a different ball in place of the legions of feel-good baseball and basketball films one can choose from (a few more soccer films and you can add that sport to the ever growing list as well). The dew is off the rose, as they say and this is fly-on-the-wall football, adroitly dissected by director Peter Berg.

When a fellow reviewer inquired about this film, I explained it thus: I always found Bad Lieutenant to be the most anti-drug film I’ve ever seen. Friday Night Lights is pretty much the most anti-football film I’ve beheld, despite the atypical “gooseflesh” game-play moments still present, which smartly reflect a genuine triumph of hard work rather than lucky plays and spirited ovations. In the end, despite one small personal victory, the town learns nothing and remains both taskmaster and slave to its empty pastime. At the very least, nobody dribbles monologues about “hope”; this is purely a “What have you done for me today” story and an entertaining one at that.

Football is the pastime not just beloved but exalted with fervor akin to religious zealotry. The townspeople are at once dutiful worshippers and cruel gods heaping praise and lavish offerings upon their idols in the good times, and striking down with bitter vitriol and cruel persecution when displeased. Walking this fine line between praise and damnation more than any single player is Coach Gary Gaines, portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton, who has mastered the far off stare of a man trying to see eight steps ahead of his opposition both on and off the field.

Gaines is a canny character, mastering not just of the strategy of the field, but the razor thin high-wire of school and town politics he must traverse, wary of the mercurial passions of the townspeople which can range from throngs of cheering crowds deifying him to villagers brandishing torches and burning him in effigy on his front lawn. Thornton tackles the role with quiet gusto - his sleepy-eyed exterior and grunted drawl belying careful intelligence, riveting passion and cunning as he navigates the tripwires and tiger pits of expectation, achievement and failure the season sets before him.

Individual player dramas are present and the cast as a whole play their parts very well, most notably Derek Luke as the team’s star player who is put out of commission with a serious leg injury at the beginning of the season which produces a domino effect on the team entire, and Garrett Hedlund as a receiver under the shadow of his has-been father (Tim McGraw proving yet again that if you want a great abusive alcoholic parent you cast country singers), the star of the team back in his day, now reduced to a shambling drunk with all his hope and resentment vomited upon his son.

But unlike a kissing cousin of this film, All the Right Moves (oil derricks taking the place of the soot caked knot of steel factories and coal mines), the individual stories all submit to a macro view of the town- we do get compelling personal tales from the team, but everything comes around to the hardscrabble, impoverished existence of Odessa and football’s inspiring yet ultimately hollow effect on its townspeople. Restaurants and shops are packed to the gills with the all-stars of yesteryear, proudly brandishing their high school championship rings and team war stories and little else save the memory of their time on the field, with nothing to show for it thereafter and forevermore. The current roster of players interacts with these people every waking hour and Berg chillingly illustrates generation after generation failing to see the writing on the wall.

A pleasant surprise, “Friday Night Lights” gives you all the excitement and rush of the game, but removes the syrup from the equation, providing accomplishment while revealing the ashes swept beneath the sentiment.

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originally posted: 01/06/07 04:05:55
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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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