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Monday, July 11, 2011

Friday Night Lights - 2004

As a film Friday Night Lights received widely acclaimed reviews, but if I started a list of the most underrated films of all time, it would begin with this one. Critics say the film takes you into the heart of Odessa, Texas, and that we feel like we are a part of the games, hearing every hit and understanding every feeling. While expressing my love for the film, people argue against me that it is boring, and a less than satisfying ending, but to me it all is a big misunderstanding. Though a good part of the film takes place during the football games, in my opinion Friday Night Lights is less of a sports movie, and more of a drama. In the same way that "The Deer Hunter" with the war themes is mostly about the effects of Vietnam. Sure, we want our Permian Panthers to win, who doesn't? But the important thing is the lives of the players, and that is why Friday Night Lights is one of the best sports involved movies ever filmed.

From the beginning it is evident what kind of film we have on our hands, as we are quickly introduced to the characters on the practice field. The star of the Permian Panthers is "Boobie" Miles (Derek Luke), the arrogant but uncommonly talented running back, who is finding more and more college scholarship offers daily. Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) is the solid quarterback with a shot at college ball, but his playing is overshadowed by Miles. He has a problem though, he cannot decide whether or not he cares to leave Odessa to play football, or stay in town and take care of his sick mother. Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) is the least talented player of our heroes, with a fumbling problem and a verbally abusive father (Tim McGraw) that has the highest of expectations for his son. Brian Chavez (Jay Hernandez) with both on field talent and grades has little to worry about in life. And lastly Permian's head coach, Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) who is the most important character in this remarkable true story. Preaching of winning state and perfection from the start of the year, after noticing the town's unhealthy obsession with winning football games, he begins to change his perspective on winning and losing, and what's important in life. Together these people go through one of the most special football seasons in team history.

Peter Berg, an unimpressive director with little to brag about that I have no respect for. I haven't seen every film he has made, but from what I have I do not like him at all. However, I thank him everyday of my life for making Friday Night Lights. Sometimes you have really bad directors (Michael Bay) that even when they make a decent film, it is not enough to cover any of their earlier films. Other times you have consistently bad directors (Peter Berg) that you don't enjoy the majority of their films, but you just never know when there might be that diamond in the rough. Friday Night Lights is just that movie. Peter Berg obviously did plenty of research on his source material, whether the film stuck to it or not, he knew exactly what film to make and what message to send. Showing with utmost passion the seemingly average, yet tragic lives these high school football players live. The story is there, the direction is there, and Berg's execution is perfect.

I usually like to stick to a basic formula when reviewing a movie, but here I want to take a minute and give credit to a couple of people who often go without being mentioned. Brian Reitzell and David Torn in the music department have done an astounding job with Friday Night Lights. Reitzell's music production is undeniably impressive, and Torn's original score is top 5 material in my opinion. Unfortunately, the Academy along with every other film awards have failed to agree with me. but every moment I hear the music I am engaged. It creates an emotional feeling inside of the audience that will stick with you long after the film is over. The score may be simple, but I cannot help but be amazed by it every single time I watch this film.

The screenplay, written by Peter Berg and David Cohen, is fantastic in so many ways. Starting with the script. Unlike most sports movies that involve racism or some other issue that too many movies have been made about, Friday Night Lights avoids any cheese filled dialogue. In fact, everything was actually quite realistic. The story was obviously brilliant, even though I have read that it isn't very accurate, it still works very well. The character development is hands down the finest part of the entire film. We are taken into these high school football players' lives, and we truly care for them. Friday Night Lights is a character driven film, and we learn so much about these people that the audience naturally feels like they are next door neighbors with the movie characters.

The acting was brilliant beyond all words, and honestly I think the Academy missed a nomination with Billy Bob Thornton, who does a better job of a sports coach than anyone I have seen before. He is believable, passionate, and his final speech is one of the most touching one ever. Lucas Black as the quarterback was a very odd performance, for a very odd character, at times I could not decide whether his acting was terrible or great. Ultimately he has a role to play, and does it as well as anyone. Garrett Hedlund was excellent, which is one of the reasons I was so disappointed in him when he played in TRON: Legacy. He, out of all the characters, probably deserves the most sympathy, with his abusive father who is played by Tim McGraw, surprisingly well too. McGraw is someone who I think, and i'm sure many others as well, is an absolutely horrible actor. Every role he plays in is bad, and the movies aren't that great either. However, McGraw is so believable and real in this film I cannot help but say he did an incredible job. Derek Luke did a good job, and I found him to be much better than he usually is. And Jay Hernandez, someone I had not heard of before this film, was perfect.

Overall, Friday Night Lights easily slips into my top 5 for sports films, up there with Raging Bull and Rocky. If you do not like football or sports you may not care for this, but I suggest giving it a try anyways, as I rate it a perfect score. The message the film holds can go for anything, not just sports. We have an obsessed town, Odessa, to the extent that someone would say the schools are doing too much "learning" just because their team lost a game. Gary Gaines has a point to prove, and it is clear, though everyone always wants to win, it is not everything.

Rating: 10/10


  1. Great review Matt. I think I'll see this. :)

  2. Thanks! It's worth it for sure.

  3. I couldn't agree more! Not only is this film superb, but it really rings true in a lot of ways. Whether they want to admit it or not, West Texas has high school football running through the veins of every man, woman and child. I have family in Odessa, and Berg uses the actual Ratliff Stadium (Permian's home field and a monument to football) to wonderful effect. It's a sight to behold: watching the desert fill with crazed excitement on a Friday night. It can be contagious...

    A supremely underrated film in every way, from the soundtrack to the acting. Great review, Matt!

    PS I was very, very skeptical of this, but my little brother finally convinced me to watch the tv series of the same name. While the later seasons really lacked, the first season is surprisingly well written and (for the most part) well acted. Sure, there are a lot of weak performances by standard "tv" types (Taylor Kitsch, Gaius Charles), but the fabulous Connie Britton (Gaines' wife in the film) and Brad Leland (John Aubrey from the film) find a way to bridge the gap between the film dramatization and the fiction that is the series. Kyle Chandler shines as Coach Taylor, and the series also makes great use of the essence of the film's amazing score. If you look at Season 1 as a miniseries, it is actually quite good. If you haven't given it a shot, I would check it out. Jeez, now that I think about it, I should just review the series as well...

  4. Brilliant review Matt

  5. Jesse P. From the VaultJuly 12, 2011 at 5:52 AM

    I need to see this and nice work Matt. It's sometimes on TV i might view it real soon!

  6. Lol Great comment! Good to see you like the film as much as me, it's so amazing. And I have seen some of the recent TV episodes, I do think I will give the first season a try one day. Thanks!

  7. Thanks Hawaiianguy!

  8. Thanks Jesse, I would definitely recommend it for you!

  9. This is one of my favorite sports films! Its great story and I agree with you on the music. The soundtrack is awesome! Lucas Black I think has always been a terrible actor. I mean Tokyo Drift was awful in a big part because of him. If you liked Garrett Hedlund's performance, you might like Four Brothers or Death Sentence. He plays supporting roles in these films but he is amazing as his characters. Jay Hernandez I think has always done well with what he is given, but he hasn't had any huge parts. His biggest role was in Crazy/Beautiful and he was great there too.

  10. Thanks for the comment! But I do think Lucas Black did a fine job in this film. And as for Hedlund, Tron really made me lose respect for him, but I will look into those films.