There are many things the American people are renowned for. Hershey’s chocolate bars. Twinkies. War. The Bush Family. Celebrity culture. Jazz music. Arrogance and ego. Obsession with sports.
Its on the latter that Friday Night Lights chooses to focus, taking the perspective of small town America’s over-the-top, dangerous and unhealthy obsession with American Football.
We begin on Day 1 of pre-season training at Permian High School, in Odessa, Texas, the home of the Permian Panthers, Odessa’s champion football team, the hope of the town, and the only way out for many of the students that play for the team.
The focus stays on 5 of the main people on the team: ‘Boobie’ Miles, the team star who gets injured in the first game; Mike Winchell, the teams best quarterback who doesn’t really want to play; Don Billingsley, son of former Permian star Charles Billingsley, who has higher expectations than most; Chris Comer, who inadvertently causes the injury to the team star, and is forced to try to replace him; and Coach Gary Gaines, whose job may just be riding on the teams’ success.
This is not your high school first fifteen. The expectations on these kids are through the roof – anything less than a championship is not good enough, and if they don’t get one, they may as well not come home.
Even worse is the fact that this is the last time most of these kids will play football in their lives. Actually, that may have been the saddest thing about the movie: that this was supposed to be something fun and exciting for these kids, and its ruined by the high expectations imposed on them by the adults of the school and the town.
Of course, the team gets through to the final, where they face the unbeatable Dallas Carter team. The rest, as they say, is history – you’ll need to watch it to find out what happens. But I will say this: its based on a true story.
There were several things I liked about Friday Night Lights. Firstly, it wasn’t presented as anything other than a factual account of a season of high school football. It doesn’t try to be a high-moral story. It doesn’t have any characters who don’t need to be there. It doesn’t try and encompass the whole team, instead focusing on several of the key players. If anything, in parts Friday Night Lights is more like a documentary, than a movie.
Secondly, the acting was superb – there wasn’t much cause for big, drawn out acting scenes, so there simply isn’t any. In saying that though, the actors are great, particularly Billy Bob Thornton and Tim McGraw, who are both really good in their parts. The guys playing football are good too.
Thirdly, the movie looks and feels great, and this is where Peter Berg’s influence came in. Berg is also the director of Welcome To The Jungle, one of the classier looking movies of the last 10 years, and his own style shows again in this film, with quick cuts used well, moody lighting used to great effect, and the soundtrack, by Texas band Explosions in the Sky, adding another level to the film.
Lastly, the most important part of a sports movie is the actual sports scenes, and Friday Night Lights certainly doesn’t disappoint. Given that FNL depicts high school football, the pressure simply wasn’t on director Berg to ensure that the football scenes were faultless. With that in mind, the actual actors each play their own characters playing football, and that adds a certain authenticity to the movie. The scenes are realistic and believable, and that does wonders for the film as a whole.
Of course, there are faults with the movie. It is a little wishy-washy in parts, and little or no focus is given to events that could’ve been expanded to ‘layer’ the film better. Some events, meanwhile, went totally unexplained, and remained a mystery until the end of the film.
Perhaps the biggest fault came at the end of the film, when one of the people I was watching the movie said “Well, that was pointless.” While the story was an interesting one, it really didn’t have a point. Aside from seeing how crazy Americans are about football, I didn’t really get much out of the movie, other than the entertainment factor. For that reason I give Friday Night Lights a 6 out of 10. It’s a good film, and definitely worth a watch, but it is lacking in any real substance.