Friday Night Lights

For many small towns in America, the rituals surrounding football season have become so ingrained into the fabric of local society that all aspects of life revolve around the game each Friday.

One prime example of this is in the town of Odessa Texas, where every fall young men embrace the rituals of football as their ticket to bigger and better things in life, and where local merchants close their shops less than miss a single moment of the biggest show in town, the Perriman Panthers.

In the new film &”Friday Night Lights”, audiences get a firsthand look at the trials and tribulations that the team endured during its 1988 season that had previously been covered in the book of the same name by H.G. Bissinger which centered much like the film on the racial and economic overtones of the community.

The film stars Billy Bob Thornton as Coach Gary Gaines a man who despite a string of winning seasons and State Championships to his credit is under pressure to deliver not only a championship team, but an undefeated season as well. The players feel the pressure to, as every person they encounter on the eve of their season is quick to remind them to win it all and go undefeated.

While the first game starts as an enjoyable romp for Perriman and fans it soon becomes tragic when all everything running back Boobie Miles (Derick Luke), injures his knee and as a result the team is routed in it’s next start causing the world to fall in around the coach as disgruntled local fans go so far as to clutter his home with for sale signs following a single loss.

Undaunted the team picks itself up and finds a way to get back to its winning ways and make a run for the state tournament. Along the way the players will be saddled with the standard issues including but not limited to injuries, self-doubt, an abusive father, a sick parent, and local pressure from rabid fans that will not accept anything short of an undefeated season.

While the game scenes of the fill are well done, as Director Peter Berg mixes footage of the 2003 Perriman team with recreated scenes to create a dynamic and engrossing recreation of the game that is perhaps one of the best ever captured on film. Sadly, the game sequences are the only good part of the film as when the story deviates from the actual games, it becomes bogged down in boring sentiment and sports film stereotypes that are so over used, the film has little tension or surprises as I was easily able to see what was coming.

As if this was not bad enough, Thornton is mostly wasted as aside from a few good one-liners, he is reduced to the stern coach with the heart of gold. We know his character loves his family and his team but we do not know what drives and motivates the man. Worse yet, the team is made up of generally bland and unremarkable individuals who do not gain much sympathy from the audience as they are so bland I found myself caring little as to their outcomes.

The more I watched the film, the more I kept being reminded of “Varsity Blues” which compared to “Lights”, is a much better film in almost every aspect. My advice, save this one for a rental.

2.5 stars out of 5.