‘Friday Night Lights’ takes a gritty look at high school football

[rating=2]Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund, Tim McGraw
Director(s): Peter Berg
Writer(s): Screenplay by David Aaron Cohen and Peter Berg; Based upon a book by H. G. Bissinger

Billy Bob Thornton coaches high school football in 'Friday Night Lights'
Billy Bob Thornton coaches high school football in ‘Friday Night Lights’

After watching this DVD, I thought perhaps I wasn’t the right person to review this film. That maybe I should have found someone who is obsessively into football like the characters of the film, because to be quite honest I just didn’t get it.

To put it simply, this movie represented everythingI hate about sports. The obsessiveness, the arrogance, the win-win-win mentality. And what amazed me most about Friday Night Lights is that it appeared to celebrate those attitudes, instead of perhaps offering some commentary on the destructiveness of it.

Based on a true story, Fright Night Lights follows a collection of high school seniors in Texas through their season as they struggle to make it into the state finals. The star athlete of the team, expected to carry them through to the championships, gets tragically injured in the first game of the season. This leaves the rest of the team to pick up the slack. They struggle, and with a mixture of luck and talent, get to the state finals.

I could get into the characters a little, but I’m not sure it really matters. None of them are particularly developed. Football is the star of this film, and the characters are really secondary.

The team’s coach is played by Bill Bob Thornton. He seems like a generally good guy and dedicated coach, but his only concern for his players is the game. He, along with other players, witness a clearly abusive father berate his son, yet does nothing. When his star athlete is benched with a serious knee injury, he allows him to play again — resulting in completely destroying the teen’s knee. Personally, the man disgusted me, caring little about his players and more about results.

Noted, the man was under a lot of pressure. Throughout the film he is hounded by local parents and community leaders, all of whom offer advice and threats should he lose. But instead of the inspiring story of a coach thumbing his nose at authority, we get a man who does all that he can to preserve himself and his image. He nods obediently to the community, then turns around and tells the players that he believes in them and that he doesn’t care about winning. All this, while completely disregarding the well being of his players, from the star athlete he helps destroy, to the quarterback he manipulates. I could believe that perhaps he cared about the quarterback, but ultimately his brief pep talks are only a means for him to save himself and his job.

Very little is explored about any of the players, aside from the one receiver and his abusive father — played well by country singer Tim McGraw. However, there isn’t much development so much as a collection of scenes where McGraw mentally abuses his son. A former high school football star who’s life has apparently gone down the toilet since, he pushes his son to be a better player so the son can share in the same glory he had when in high school.

Personally, I don’t understand why I’m supposed to care about any of these people. None of them are terribly interesting, and their brutal dedication to a game borders on insanity. The entire town seems to revolve around the sport, where these teenagers are treated like celebrities.

It is not my intention to belittle the real people Friday Night Lights is based on, but the film fails to either explain the town’s obsession nor provide any relatable motive behind it. At the end, I half expected that perhaps the film was done with a sense of humor, where we the audience are supposed to be shocked by the narrow-minded view of the townspeople and the pressure they put on these kids to win. But upon watching the special features, it seems that wasn’t the case, and instead we’re supposed to admire it somehow.

There are some pluses to the film, and that’s really in the performances. Thorton is flawless, Lucas Black — familiar to most as the young boy from Slingblade — has always been an impressively strong actor and does a great job here. Visually the film’s documentary-like imagery is dizzying at times, with some confusing editing, but I like Peter Berg’s flashy style and thought it worked for this particular subject.

There are some nice special features on the DVD, with the most notable being a documentary about the real people the film is based upon. The commentary featuring Berg and H. G. Bissinger, the author of the non-fiction book the film is based upon, deliver a rather good discussion about the film. Bissinger discusses his experience writing the book and meeting the real people, and from what he says, the book seemed to explore the subject matter with much more depth than the movie even attempts.

Ultimately, I’m not sure a viewer who isn’t into football would be interested in this film. The movie is about football, and little else. But if the sport is something that you love, than this may just be the kind of movie you should have on your DVD shelf.

Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 1 hr., 58 mins.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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