FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
The High School football team of Odessa in West Texas, the Permian Panthers, have established themselves as a champion gridiron team since their inception in 1959. As the summer of 1988 draws to a close, they begin their annual tilt at the State championship, with coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) at the helm. The star of the team is Boobie Miles (Derek Luke), who falls to a knee injury during the season. Others with crosses to bear include Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) with a sick mother and Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) with an angry father. As the team inches its way haltingly toward the State finals, the town's expectations bring enormous pressure to bear on them all. Not to mention their opponents at the Houston Astrodome - the all-black, all-powerful Dallas Carter Cowboys.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If director Peter Berg had made the film that is described in the production notes, it may have had some resonance with me, but this adaptation of the novel apparently based on real events not only changes the facts (the final depicted was actually held as a semi final against Dallas Carter and it was at the Texas Stadium not the Houston Astrodome), it kills the story. There doesn't seem to be one.
Gridiron is not a sport with which I am intimately familiar, so I have to assume that if I were, I'd be riveted, ripping the seat out and generally weeping myself into hysteria as the film progresses. On second thoughts, I doubt that I could be so easily pleased as a lover of the game, since Berg never lets us see much of any game, except for very tight close ups of bodies thumping into each other with great thuds. His filmmaking style here is intensely irritating: a (loose-wristed) hand held camera for every shot, often in extreme close ups, which may be of faces, parts of faces, parts of hands, or just things that are in front of the camera. It looks like a style signature intended to create a sense of dramatic importance.
To intensify the sensation of whirling bodies and action, Berg and his team edit the footage with rapid, MTV style jump cuts so that whatever images we do manage to capture are quickly replaced and jumbled into a meaningless, incomprehensible blur. The only wide shots are of the stadium playing field, and one at the end outside the Panthers' oval.
Billy Bob Thornton is the drawcard star, but whatever charisma the real Gary Gaines had is not given a chance to impress us; Berg lets Gaines deliver one 20 second lecture about 'being perfect' to his team, but otherwise suts him up like the rest of the film. Derek Luke again impresses - you'll remember him from Antwone Fisher - but it's not enough to carry the film.
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FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS (PG)
CAST: Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlun, Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez, Lee Jackson, Lee Thompson Young
PRODUCER: Brian Grazer
DIRECTOR: Peter Berg
SCRIPT: David Aaron Cohen (novel by Buzz Bissinger)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Tobias A. Schliessler
EDITOR: Colby Parker Jr., David Rosenbloom
MUSIC: Brian Reitzell, Explosions in the Sky, David Torn
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Sharon Seymou
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: 20th Century Fox
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 10, 2005