Friday Night Lights

          I grew up in New England, so as far as sports go, baseball and hockey
  dominated. As a kid, I followed college basketball, partly because my older
  sister had played and she was interested. Although my parents tried to
  interest me in baseball, I found listening to it on radio or watching it on
  television to be boring. (Attending games in person, well, that was another
  story.) Instead, thanks partly to my uncle, I became intrigued by hockey,
  particularly since the great Bobby Orr was then enjoying his best days as
  a player with the Boston Bruins.

          At the high school I attended, football was the big sport and to show
  school spirit, I attended a few games, although I much preferred going to
  basketball games. Four years later, at college, hockey was the big thing
  and my attentions shifted back to the Bruins and the college team (several
  Olympians attended the school and I even shared a classes with them).
  To me, football was merely something that people watched on Thanksgiving
  and New Year’s and in January when they played the Super Bowl.

          But I am cognizant that in other parts of the United States, football,
  particularly high school football, is almost a religion. For example, there’s
  the town of Massillon, Ohio that was profiled in the 2001 documentary
GO TIGERS! Then there’s the state of Texas, an in particular, the city of
  Odessa, which happens to be the setting of H.G. Bissinger’s nonfiction
Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, a Dream.

          Bissinger’s cousin actor-director Peter Berg has adapted that book
  which profiled the 1988 Odessa-Permian Panthers High School football team.
  The resulting film, which admittedly takes liberties with the truth, proves
  to be far more enjoyable than I would have thought.

FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is a terrific performance by Billy
  Bob Thornton as Coach Gary Gaines. While the culture of the area is
  presented as winning at all costs, Thornton tempers it with the realistic
  approach of a man who has faced his share of defeats. There’s a particularly
  telling moment in the film when the coach and his wife and daughter are
  approached in a parking lot. The drivers of the car exhort him to “take us to
  [the] state [championships].” “Or what?” is the coach’s reply. The unsaid
  threat lays there and it unnerves his daughter who asks, “Are we going
  to move again?” While her mother tries to soothe her with a positive
  affirmation, Gaines tells her “possibly.”

          The film also focuses on several of the team’s players, notably
  quarterback Mike Winchell (Thornton’s
SLING BLADE co-star Lucas Black,
  now a strapping muscular young man), who internalizes the pressure
  to succeed, Don Billingsley (Garret Hedlund), coping with an abusive,
  alcoholic father (a terrific turn by country music performer Tim McGraw), the
  studious Brian Chavez (Jay Hernandez) whose future is assured thanks to
  his academic record, and the natural athlete James ‘Boobie’ Miles (an
  excellent Derek Luke), whose ego equals his athletic prowess and is a
  set up for his hubristic fall.

          Although shot more like a documentary than a fictional film (the
  hand-held cinematography of Tobias Schliesser is a big asset),
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS surprised me. It was gripping, engrossing and
  enjoyable, and since I’m not really a football fan, that’s saying quite a lot.

                          Rating:                 B+
                          MPAA Rating:        PG-13 for thematic issues, sexual content,
                                                            language, some teen drinking and
                                                            rough sports action
                          Running time:       117 mins.
© 2005 by C.E. Murphy. All Right Reserved.