Friday Night Lights
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Peter Berg
scr David Aaron Cohen, Peter Berg
with Billy Bob Thornton, Derek Luke, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund, Jay Hernandez, Lee Thompson Young, Lee Jackson, Tim McGraw, Grover Coulson, Connie Cooper, Connie Britton, Christian Kane
release US 8.Oct.04, UK 13.May.05
04/US Universal 1h57

Talk to me, boy: Thornton and Black

thornton luke hernandez

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Friday Night Lights There's nothing particularly universal or relevant about this place- and sport-specific ode to American football. Although it's a gripping and watchable true story.

Gary Gaines (Thornton) is the football coach at Permian High School in Odessa. And as the 1998 season gets underway, the pressures of the entire town are on his shoulders. The town loves him when the team wins and hates him when they lose. And the 17-year-old players are also under massive stress, not only to win the championship but to plot a course for their future. And when each Friday night game arrives, all of that stops as these teenagers wage war on the field.

Berg films and edits this beautifully, with a bleached-out visual tone that captures West Texas' dusty desperation and the hopeful glare of the stadium lights. The script centres on three players, and the actors deliver complex, intriguing performances. Luke is a hotshot whose life might be derailed by an injury; Black is the star quarterback with responsibility for both the team and his needy mother (Cooper); Hedlund is a hothead with an even more mercurial father (McGraw). Meanwhile, Thornton finds strong resonance in his understated but steely performance.

The mixture of on-field action, locker-room angst and home-life expectations gives the film a textured sense of substance. Intriguingly, the film never shows the players as school students--perhaps because that's simply irrelevant to the townsfolk. These boys are unbearably pulled in every direction, forced to make grown-up decisions, thrust into early stardom and of course physically beaten to a pulp.

As a whole, the film would have benefited from a lighter touch. The movie-adapted plot is sentimental (including the requisite "My heart is full" speech), eye-rollingly manipulative and rather corny, with two big games that come right down to the wire. It's also intensely reliant on knowledge of both American football rules and West Texan culture (although we all know narrow-minded machismo when we see it). But it's also an important document about a brutal side of American culture that both threatens and feeds young hopes and dreams.

cert 12 themes, language, sports violence 5.Apr.05

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2005 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall