|Friday Night Lights|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Tuesday, 18 January 2005|
I have an S.A.T. question for you. Basketball is to Hoosiers is to as Football is to? The answer: “Friday Night Lights.” Set in Odessa, Texas, high school football is a way of life, a religion. In this true story of the Permian High Panthers football team, we quickly learn that nothing is more important to these small-town folks than winning the state championship. Based on the best selling book by H.G. Bissinger, this film was directed by the author’s cousin Peter Berg, a family-friendly and inspiring tale of how teamwork and perseverance can make winners out of underdogs. It also teaches you that you better have something to fall back on even if you are great at football.
In a sort of weird piece of casting, Lucas Black, who played the young boy in “Sling Blade,” here portrays team star quarterback Mike Winchell, while “Sling Blade” writer/director/star Billy Bob Thornton plays Gary Gaines, the school’s head football coach. “Sling Blade” had an incredible performance from county music star Dwight Yoakam as the evil father figure and “Friday Night Lights” has its own bad dad in country singing star Tim McGraw. He plays a drunken father named Charles Billingsley who is trying to relive the glory days of his past state championship through the life of his fumble-prone son Mike.
Visually, the movie at time has a high contrast, almost black and white feel to it. The school’s colors are black and white and the players themselves are mixture of races. Unlike the recent real-life-inspired football movie “Remember the Titans,” team race relations are not the issue in “Friday Night Lights.” These players struggle more with the pressures of parents with huge expectations and a history of state championships. When the games are going on, all of the businesses close down and everyone in the entire town is there at the 20,000+ capacity stadium, placing incredible amounts of pressure on the players and coaching staff. Threats of violence and even worse things are made by parents to the head coach if the team doesn’t bring home the title. Watching this reminded me a little of the recent “hockey dad” incident a few years back.
Permian suffers an early setback as their star running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke), who is being scouted by all of the top NCAA schools for a full ride scholarship, suffers a possibly career-ending injury to his knee. This happens during a play that he was actually supposed to be sitting out. An unfortunate turn of events leads him to be in the game on the play where his knee blows out. Boobie’s denial of the severity of his injuries leads him to come back to the game too early. The pressure he felt at the hands of the town and himself were greater than his will to let time heal his wounds.
As the season comes to a close, a seemingly impossible three-way tie forces Odessa and two other rival schools to decide who moves on to the state championship tournament via a coin toss. The event is so major that news crews show up to cover the coin toss in a barbershop. Normally, this barbershop is a place where the locals just talk about the games, but it becomes the center of the Texas High School football universe as the team’s fates are decided completely by random luck.
When the Panthers finally make it to the big show at the Houston Astrodome, it’s pretty obvious that their opponents ate their Wheaties and came to play. The Panther’s foes outweigh them by a large margin. On the field it looks like a high school team vs. a college team, but Odessa, the winningist football program in the entire country since their first season in 1959, are not going to go down without a fight.
It would be bad form for me to tell you what happens in the end, but I can say that the action is heart-stopping and the hard-hitting football action is as realistic as ever. Veteran stunt coordinator Alan Graff has made quite the name for himself as a specialist in football action sequences thanks to his work in films like “The Replacements,” “Jerry Maguire,” “Any Given Sunday,” “Remember the Titans” and now “Friday Night Lights,” just to name a few. It’s very easy for the action on a football field to look and feel fake, but on “Friday Night Lights,” it seems quite authentic. A behind the scenes documentary included on the disc shows that the actors were essentially put through something similar to a full pre-season training camp to get ready for filming. The movie was shot mostly in Texas, so its look is very authentic.
Sonically, “Friday Night Lights” packs all the crunches, grunts and groans that come with the weekly struggle of football games under the lights at high schools around the country. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack lights up your woofers with great grid iron action. The overall effect of the high-contrast, gritty-looking picture and sound are not good enough to make this film demo quality, but if you have ever had dreams of your past days at Polk High when you scored four touchdowns in a game like Al Bundy, then “Friday Night Lights” is a film you’ll want to relive over and over.