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Friday Night Lights (2004)

Sports based movies have been not only entertaining but very inspiring to say the least. They can motivate the audience, capture the feel of the sport along with the passion, intensity, and heavy emotion that comes with fierce competition. From comedy based films like The Mighty Ducks and Bad News Bears to drama filmed versions such as Varsity Blues and one of my all time favorites Remember the Titans, sports films and documentaries can be a nice change from the normal genres and perhaps get you off the couch and into the gym or out onto the field. Friday Night Lights, co-directed by Peter Berg and Josh Pate, is based on a book written by Buzz Bissinger released in 1990 which chronicles the 1988 Permian High School Panthers football team which is located in Odessa, Texas.

Like many sports films, this one revolves around the coach and the teams major players. Billy Bob Thorton plays Coach Gary Gaines who is under a lot of pressure to lead a team of mixed high school personalities which consist of mainly seniors who have one last
 chance to leave their mark on their school and juniors and sophomores who want to make a name for themselves. His best player, James “Boobie” Miles is the star running back who can do everything on the field from returning punts to throwing touchdown passes. Like every sports cliché, he gets hurt and can no longer play. Now, Coach Gaines has to rely on his indecisive quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), fumble prone fullback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) and third string running back Chris Comer (Lee Thompson Young) to try to make something out of the rest of the season. The town of Odessa seems to strictly run off of their high school football program. As their team goes, they go. Even an early attempt at a return to the field by Boobie doesn’t go over very well as he reinjures himself. The players struggle on the field to save their season and struggle off the field with being students and feeling the pressure from the town and their parents.

The drama in this film is perhaps some of the realest I’ve seen yet contained in a sports movie. Every game and every scene pulls you in more to feel what the characters are going through. You begin to root for them and may even scream at the referees as you disagree with bad calls as if it were an actual football game on television and sit in silence as the league uses a simple coin flip to determine a tie break and a spot in the playoffs. With past state championships looming over them as well as the pressure of winning, the characters must also deal with what their future may hold. The student athletes know that not all of them will make football a career and hope their academic side will help them get into a good college. Perhaps one of the toughest scenes to watch was Boobie’s tear-filled realization that his football career was over and not being a great student himself, was very unaware of his future.

The acting performances in this film were pretty spot on. Portraying high school students are not always easy, even for younger actors who might have just left high school themselves. They must also capture the essence of whoever they are playing in real life. Although nothing extraordinary, many good performances were contained in this movie. Billy Bob Thorton was a very believable Texas coach being from Arkansas himself. He brought the pressure of being a high school football coach in a tough football town to light. He’s not quite up there with Mr. Washington in Remember the Titans but he didn’t sleepwalk through the film either.

Being another high school football movie that takes place in the past with some slight racial tension between the predominantly white Odessa town and the predominantly black Carter high school located in Dallas towards the end of the film, it can be easily compared to Titans but stands on its own. It doesn’t focus mainly on race like that film and time period did. It focused more on the lives and mindset of the players dealing with their seemingly lost season and seemingly lost in football young lives. It was also turned into an NBC television series in 2006. I give Friday Night Lights “4 suspenseful tie breaking coin flips out of 5”.

“Being perfect is when you can look someone in the eye and know you did not let them down.”


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