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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 Collin Souter

"My favorite film of 2004."
5 stars

“Friday Night Lights” accomplishes something special. It does not tell a story about a football team that wins the big game. It tells the story of individuals and the weight of the world that rests on their shoulders to win that big game. It takes place in an economically depressed Texas town called Odessa where people depend on the high school football team to win the state championship. In fact, it’s no secret that the football coach gets paid considerably more than the principal. The team players get treated like royalty wherever they go, that is until they start losing. If the team doesn’t win, the town has nothing and nothing else matters. It’s a small town that has the ability to make a mediocre football player feel smaller.

But I went into “Friday Night Lights” thinking it would be about a football team that needs to win the big game. I dragged myself kicking and screaming to this movie, thinking it would consist of misfit team players, their eccentric coach and the stunts they pull to win the state championship. Understand, I don’t dislike sports films. I just hate that they come with no-brainer payoffs. After all, why make a “Rocky” movie if he’s just going to lose? I prefer surprises when I go to the movies and at the time of day I saw this, I had no patience for a movie without surprises.

Imagine my surprise. “Friday Night Lights” is a true heartbreaker, a sad account of a town dependent on a trophy and a dark exploration of how one’s past can become a self-inflicted curse. It’s also hopeful, crowd-pleasing and beautifully filmed. It shuns conventionality in its execution as well as the stories it tells. It centers on a few characters, each wrestling with a personal conflict big enough to fill Soldiers Field. It’s all based on Buzz Bissinger’s book (a true story), but because we go to these kinds of movies to escape, to root and to cheer, the question I posed before remains: Why make this movie?

I’ll get to my answer later. “Friday Night Lights” has no central character. Of course, we have the coach, Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), who has seen his fair share of winning teams and losing ones. He’s new to this town and is more than ready for the town’s verbal slings and arrows if his team doesn’t deliver. His star player is a cocky big mouth named Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) who seems more than ready to take on the world of professional football and the fame that accompanies it.

A more tragic story centers around Donny Billingsly (Garrett Hedlund), who lives with his abusive father, Charles (a great out-of-nowhere performance by country singer Tim McGraw). Charles won his state championship years ago and wants nothing more than for his son to at least hang onto the ball when he catches it. He warns his son that this is the only time in his life he will have to be something. After this, life is pretty much over. Another player, Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) must deal with his ailing mother, who wants nothing more than for him to win a scholarship and go to college, but without him no one will be there to care for her.

I know what you’re thinking. You have it in your head that the star player will somehow injure himself and that Billingsly will win the game and he will stand up to his abusive father and that Mike will win a scholarship, someone will come home to take care of his mother and all will be right with the world. Think that, if you must. It’s not a bad way to go in.

Screenwriter David Aaron Cohen effortlessly weaves these stories in and out of each other making every character and situation worthy of their own movie. Director Peter Berg makes a daring choice to try and convey the drama in grainy verité that in the wrong hands could come off as being pretentious and unwarranted. The shaky camera, which gives a clear sense of immediacy and intimacy, combined with an ethereal, guitar driven score by Explosions In the Sky give “Friday Night Lights” a fresh identity in an otherwise stale genre.

So, why tell this true story when there’s bound to be a more hopeful true story about football that will make an audience cheer? Call this a reach, but I believe there exists a parallel between the town of Odessa and America in a time of war and how we depend on the young to fight our battles for us before they even have a chance to discover who they are and why they fight in the first place. “Friday Night Lights” depicts the pressure a town places on its team to bring home the championship, much in the way a country’s leader or an entire nation hopes and prays our troops will return home victorious, or at the very least unharmed and without humility. Even though the film takes place in 1988 (When Bush the First was voted into office), the microcosm of Odessa conveys the spirit of our country today in a time of uncertainty. We’re not calling in radio shows complaining abut the players, but of the Texas coach who put them there.

“Friday Night Lights” also has a clear message about not what you win or lose in a conflict, but what you take away from it when it’s over. The young boys in this film see a town populated by adults stuck in time. They see people who live vicariously through the new breeds of high school football players. The men in this town show off the championship rings on their fingers, but the rings don’t tell a full story. The rings don’t tell the new players what these former athletes learned from winning. The sight of them just adds to the pressure. Will these new players go on to be just as disillusioned, spiteful and obsessed when they get that age (notice how I didn’t say ‘grow up’)?

For these and many more reasons, I put “Friday Night Lights” at the top of my 10 Best list for 2004. I have seen it three times and it gets better and richer with every viewing. To be honest, I love most of the movies on that list every bit as much as this one, but my love for them seemed almost pre-ordained. I love Alexander Payne movies. I love the idea of Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet being in the same film. I’m fascinated by the story of Howard Hughes and Clint Eastwood seems to be on yet another career high. But I don’t love football. I couldn’t care less about it. I care even less about high school football. Yet, when I watch this movie I don’t care about anything else. That’s something special.

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originally posted: 01/18/05 17:12:53
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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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