Friday Night Lights (2004)
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Review Date: October 07, 2004
Director: Peter Berg
Writer: Peter Berg, David Aaron Cohen
Producers: Robert Graf
Billy Bob Thornton
Derek Luke
Tim McGraw
Based on a true story which took place in 1988, this film follows the season of an ultra-competitive Texas-based high school football team, as they shoulder the entire town's hopes, dreams and indirect threats "to win State". And you thought religious fanatics were nutty...wait until you get a load of these folks! The game of football being taken a little too seriously by some people...ensues.
A solid football movie. Sure, you don't have to love the sport to appreciate the story at hand, the characters intertwined or the message that the film ultimately sends out, but let's be honest here...if you're a football fan, this movie will definitely appeal more to you! It's packed with football sequences, drenched in the old "go git 'em" attitude of football players, jammed with high-energy music and attitude, as in most football locker rooms, so yeah...you might not have to love the game to appreciate the film, but let's call a spade a spade...sports fans will definitely enjoy this movie more than your everyday schmoes. That said, the film is a great example of, much like LADDER 49, a picture that doesn't need to be wholly original, in order to provide for a solid punch. I got into this film from the get-go, mostly thanks to director Peter Berg's way of introducing me to everyone and everything in the town of Odessa, Texas, real nice and purty. In fact, by the 15-minute mark, I was already involved in several of the characters' lives, thanks also to the great acting by everyone on the squad. Billy Bob Thornton punched in yet another solid outing as the highly committed coach of the "perfect" team, while others like Derek Luke and a surprising Tim McGraw (yeah, that Tim McGraw!) provided the film with that little bit of extra spice and 'oomph'. Actually, both those actors' character through-lines were the most interesting and ultimately, the most emotional of the bunch.

That said, pretty much everyone had their moment to shine and despite the film not really treading any new ground (and much like LADDER 49, ending on a note that didn't entirely satisfy this movie fan-then again, it's based on a true story, so I'm glad they didn't "phony it up", at least), it still managed to entertain me all the way through, heck...it even provided a lump in my throat at some point (the ring, man...the ring), plenty of energetic football sequences and nail-biting game-enders. On the downside, well, as I mentioned before, there really wasn't much in the film that I hadn't seen before (other than that shot of Thornton's penis...no reason for that), in fact, it started to feel a touch like VARSITY BLUES, but sans Jon Voight's over-acting and the whipped cream, at various points. And while the directing was unique and stylized overall, I thought the overuse of the close-ups versus the blurry characters in the background got really annoying at some points, as did the BLAIR WITCH-esque fashion of consistently moving the camera around at all times. It seemed to work at first, but after a while, I just wanted to concentrate on the characters and the overuse of the camera movements, just bothered me. I'm also not sure where all that "love in your heart" stuff suddenly came from during one of Thornton's speeches (left field?), but that's a minor peeve (great speech!). That said, none of those small tidbits killed the movie for me, especially versus all of its many strengths, including the fact that it was based on a true story (for once, that actually managed to involve me further into the story, rather than "yawning"), but mostly due to its engaging storyline which meticulously followed a well-drawn out team of characters through an entire football season, warts and all. See it if you love football or any sort of "gritty sports film" and remember...it's all about the heart, kids...the heart.
(c) 2018 Berge Garabedian

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