More in-depth film festival coverage than any other website!
Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About 

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

Latest Reviews

Blood Quantum by Jay Seaver

I Am REN by Jay Seaver

Tread by Jay Seaver

Dead Dicks by Jay Seaver

Ford v Ferrari by Rob Gonsalves

Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Peter Sobczynski

Long Walk, The (2019) by Jay Seaver

Ride Your Wave by Jay Seaver

Enter the Fat Dragon (2020) by Jay Seaver

Sea Fever by Jay Seaver

subscribe to this feed

Friday Night Lights
[] Buy posters from this movie
by Luke Pyzik

"Now I understand why James Vander Beek 'don't want....their life.'"
4 stars

Actor turned director Peter Burg has been behind the camera for two films – the queasy “Very Bad Things” and the entertaining action romp “The Rundown.” Based on that resume, one might expect his high school football extravaganza “Friday Night Lights” to look a lot like a sequel to “Varsity Blues.” I’m happy to report it is not. Some may have wondered why Berg took a small, throwaway role in Michael Mann’s “Collateral,” and now the answer seems clear. He wanted to watch Mann work. “Friday Night Lights” looks and feels a lot like a Mann film, complete with gritty, verité camerawork, lush establishing shots, and highly emotional dialogue scenes frequently played out in dramatic, super-tight close ups. Berg employs the style to tell this true-life football story with relative objectivity and uncompromising realism, resulting in a film that will almost certainly end up being listed among the best sports movies ever made.

The film is based on the H.G. Bissinger book famously hailed by Sports Illustrated as one of the greatest sports stories ever told. Some may walk out of “Friday Night Lights” doubtful, thinking similar stories must certainly happen all across the country on any given year, but that is exactly the point. What makes the movie (and the book, I’m assuming) so special is not the specifics of what happens on the field, but the way in which it outlines the fragile relationship sports has to its community, the emotional and tangible effects of winning and losing, and the very personal stories of young athletes with too much weight on their shoulders. Thankfully, “Friday Night Lights” is not about whether or not a rag-tag group of loveable losers will win the big game. The movie is not about underdogs or overachievers. Instead, it is about what is truly at stake when playing a game everyone is watching.

The movie focuses on a few key figures of the Odessa-Permian high school football team, including coach Gary Gains (Billy Bob Thornton), quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), star running back Booby Miles (Derek Luke), and offensive utility man with a propensity for fumbling, Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund). In some ways these characters are drawn in broad strokes – reluctant hero, egotistical superstar, son of an overbearing, alcoholic father – but the performances are so authentic their impact is surprisingly effective. Thornton’s Coach Gains is particularly interesting; he isn’t an abusive tyrant (Jon Voight in “Varsity Blues”), nor is he a Christ-like figure with heart of gold (Denzel Washington in “Remember the Titans”). Instead, Gains is a relatively even-tempered man good enough at his job that he knows when to yell and when to rein it in.

Similarly, it would be easy for Derek Luke to play loudmouth superstar Booby Miles as a villain, but the writing, direction and performance are such that his misfortunes are not satisfying pieces of poetic justice, but small human tragedies no young man deserves, regardless of arrogance. Tim McGraw is a revelation as the elder Billingsley, a former high school football star who is too hard on his son partly because of jealousy, partly because of whiskey. McGraw’s turn mirrors that of Dwight Yokam, who so effectively played the domestic menace in Thornton’s directorial debut, “Sling Blade.” And speaking of “Sling Blade,” Lucas Black, who played Thornton’s young friend in that film, also turns up here as troubled quarterback Mike Winchell. Black’s performance is understated and sad, as Winchell has to adjust to taking a bigger role on the team while simultaneously worrying about wooing college scouts and taking care of his sick mother.

Berg and co-screenwriter David Aaron Cohen do well not to elevate any of these characters into the stratosphere of movie superhero. They are all grounded by their humanity, making their journey that much more compelling. Berg and Cohen realize this story is not about these specific characters and this specific team, but that it is the perfect allegory for the countless teams existing in small town America just like them - teams full of kids who need football almost as much as the town itself does.

“Friday Night Lights” is neither a ringing endorsement of high school football hysteria nor is it a blatant indictment. The movie feels like a piece of sports journalism, not just because of the way it is shot, but also because it cuts all the fat off the story’s bone, leaving no room for “win one for the gipper” subplots or needless tragedies to motivate the team. It is structured very matter-of-factly with a surprisingly loose narrative. Scenes are piled on top of each other like quotes in a newspaper story, time passes very flippantly, and there is little regard for eloquent transition. This all works to the film’s advantage by allowing the movie to simply tell its story without taking sides or making blanket statements.

The final scenes of the movie are quietly sad and beautiful, showing Coach Gains replacing the seniors’ names on his office wall with the names of incoming freshman. We get the feeling this is part of the routine for a guy who makes his living as a high school football coach in a small town. After all, when the big game is over and the lights are turned off, Odessa is still a town living in poverty that needs something to cheer for. If he can’t provide it, who will?

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 10/12/04 06:45:15
[printer] printer-friendly format  

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
Note: Duplicate, 'planted,' or other obviously improper comments
will be deleted at our discretion. So don't bother posting 'em. Thanks!
Your Name:
Your Comments:
Your Location: (state/province/country)
Your Rating:

Discuss this movie in our forum

  08-Oct-2004 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-Jan-2005



Home Reviews  Articles  Release Dates Coming Soon  DVD  Top 20s Criticwatch  Search
Public Forums  Festival Coverage  Contests About Australia's Largest Movie Review Database.
Privacy Policy | HBS Inc. | |   

All data and site design copyright 1997-2017, HBS Entertainment, Inc.
Search for
reviews features movie title writer/director/cast