HOME ABOUT SUPPORT US SITES WE LIKE FORUM Search Fanboyplanet.com | Powered by Freefind FANBOY PLANET
Now Showing Today's Date:

Friday Night Lights

In Texas, the Lord rested on the seventh day, just like everybody else. He had to, because on the fifth day He'd pretty much worn Himself out creating football. Out of the darkness he commanded, "let there be stadium lights!" And it was good.

Perhaps that's not the way they teach it in Texas, but it doesn't seem that much of a stretch. Though football has a hold on the American popular culture in general, the Lone Star State has elevated it into something beyond passion. Friday Night Lights offers a case in point: the small town of Odessa, Texas, where football has a religious feel. Older citizens stop and offer ritualized greetings to high school players; the words never change and they're all tantamount to worshiping youth and pigskin. As long as they win, amen.

Based on a true story and partially shot as if it were a documentary, Friday Night Lights quickly draws you into the monomaniacal world of this economically depressed town, and more impressively, makes you understand it. It's not just a case of "nothing else to do," though director Peter Berg doesn't offer much alternative. It's the culture. On a scorching summer day, the Permian High Panthers meet for grueling practice, and already the media has descended upon them.

The Permian Panthers have been state champions four times, and in Texas, that covers a lot of ground. This year (1987) might be the fifth championship year, centering on an already hot college recruitment target, running back Boobie Williams (Derek Luke). Another receiver, Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund), is the son of a state champion, billed by even the out-of-town reporters as "a living legend." Though dad Charles Billingsley (Tim McGraw) never achieved anything past high school, his shadow looms large over the team, especially with the glint of that championship ring.

Of course, a football team achieves nothing without its quarterback. Berg keeps Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) front and center, but also lets him be the most impenetrable character. Rarely smiling, though not necessarily unhappy, Mike is the first player we meet, getting drilled on football plays by his mother (Connie Cooper) over breakfast. Though the connection never gets made explicitly, it's quite possible that her mania for football has driven her insane. At any rate, the script keeps referring back to "her problems," and all we really see about it is a drive to see her son be the best quarterback he can be.

All the players have one goal beyond championship: to get out of this small town. Maybe that's the key to the game's popularity, but the preponderance of older guys walking around with those rings belie the students' dreams.

Tying it all together in a low-key star turn, Billy Bob Thornton plays coach Gary Gaines. How does this strange, strange actor play normalcy so effectively?

A PG-13 rating requires Gaines to speak less saltily than he likely did in real life, but Thornton still invests the part with complexity. By turns fiery and fatherly to his players, Gaines knows when to keep his mouth shut and nod politely when it seems like everybody in town has advice for him. Last year's Radio gave us a glimpse of this, but for melodramatic purposes. Here, it's everyday life, and because of Berg's tendency to keep a distance from the characters, we conversely feel more for Gaines.

The slightest downturn in fortune for the team, which of course there are, has townspeople calling for him to be fired. Even on his way to the playoffs, Gaines' young daughter asks plaintively, "are we going to have to move again?"

For the most part, Friday Night Lights has the edge of reality to it. Many characters remain as unknowable as the guy down the street. You recognize their faces and their quirks, but whatever drives them takes a backseat to football; even knowing how their lives turned out afterward in subtitles feels like an intrusion. In a few cases the script, also by Berg with David Aaron Cohen, stops to try to redeem some moments, particularly McGraw's drunken has-been. Those scenes feel trite, even though well-acted.

If anything takes you out of the movie, it is the scenes that lose the documentary feel. Berg, already proven as an interesting director with The Rundown and Very Bad Things, is at his best here when he keeps his distance. The film never resorts to talking heads, but we learn much more as a fly on the wall than watching something with a bit of schmaltz to it. His script is one of those rare smart works that lets more be spoken by what is not said.

And then there's the action on the playing field. Bone-crunching (okay, tendon-spraining), visceral and strangely emotional, it's so well done that even if you think you do not like the game, your heart will pound.

Are you ready for some football?


Derek McCaw

Our Friends:

Official PayPal Seal

Copyrights and trademarks for existing entertainment (film, TV, comics, wrestling) properties are held by their respective owners and are used with permission or for promotional purposes of said properties. All other content ™ and © 2001, 2014 by Fanboy Planet™.
"The Fanboy Planet red planet logo is a trademark of Fanboy Planetâ„¢
If you want to quote us, let us know. We're media whores.
Movies | Comics | Wrestling | OnTV | Guest | Forums | About Us | Sites