Friday Night Lights (2004)
A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2005
On this side of the Big Pond sport is seen mainly as an entertainment or occasional excuse for people to indulge themselves in atavistic tribal violence. In America sport seems to be a dominating force to which any other aspects of life should be sacrificed. One of the films to explore such phenomenon is FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, 2004 drama directed by Peter Berg.
The plot is based on the non-fiction bestselling book by Buzz Bissinger which chronicled 1988 season of Permian Panthers, high school football team from the town of Odessa in Western Texas. The team's past victories at the state championships appear to represent the only thing the townspeople are proud of and experienced coach Gary Gaines (played by Billy Bob Thornton) is hired to secure another title. During the season he will have to face many problems because the young athletes - hailed as local deities - have many personal issues, while the team itself is under enormous pressure and scrutiny.
Despite direction that often looks too influenced by MTV and cinematography which is too dark, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS gives good insight in the sport and local high school teams as the defining element of the life in many small American towns. Friday night games affect everyone, especially young men who are celebrated as gods and for whom the end of high school looks like the end of life. Berg and his co-writer David Aaron Cohen explain this phenomenon with great clarity and good eye for social and psychological observation. Characters and their dilemmas are well-written and played by good actors, although Billy Bob Thornton's role appears to be underwritten. On the other hand, as the plot advances to its unconventional albeit predictable and un-cathartic conclusion, it becomes apparent that FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS will fail to have an impact to the audience alien to American sport culture. FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is a good film, but it is preaching to the converted.
RATING: 6/10 (++)