Review: Friday Night Lights

Dir. Peter Berg

Based on the book by H.G. Bissinger, Friday Night Lights is set in the oil town of Odessa, Texas, a world in which football is religion. The film is shot to emphasise the flat landscape of Odessa, all heat and dust, the sheer emptiness of a town that has nothing to look for but the Friday night lights of the title. That sense of urgency pervades the game scenes of the film: you can almost feel the crunch as the adolescent bodies slam into each other.

With so much riding on each game, each play even, perhaps the best quality of the film is that it is not given to excessive sentimentality, understanding that any football season by itself contains a multitude of moving moments, a plethora of great storylines: the season-ending injury to a star player, the emergence of a rookie.

Of course, every good film about high school sports has a mentor coach figure, and leading the boys here is Billy Bob Thornton as Coach Gary Gaines. Gaines coaches with urgency but has the ability to rise above the unending second-guessing and the implicit threats.

Throughout the film, it's clear that football gives the boys their chance of escape, but at the cost of their youth. What does it mean to be 17 and have a town's expectations on your shoulders? What does it mean when the glory days of one's life are often over before one becomes an adult? (Tim McGraw is surprisingly good as a former high school football star living through his son, clinging on to the memory of winning the state championship, the one shining moment of his life.) Friday Night Lights shows, without sentimentality, life in this strange, inverted world, this world in which grown men look up to boys.

The Odessa American on Friday Night Lights: Ten Years Later

If you like this review, check out Delta Sierra Arts, my arts review blog.


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