FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
Film review by Gordon Justesen
Technical specs by Michael Jacobson
Billy Bob Thornton, Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund, Tim
Director: Peter Berg
Audio: DTS HD 5.1, Dolby Digital 2.0
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: January 6, 2009
want you to take a moment, and I want you to look each other in the eyes. I want
you to put each other in your hearts forever because forever is about to happen
here in just a few minutes.”
In 1988, a high
school football team in Odessa, Texas were facing some pretty incredible odds.
They’re determination to make it all the way to the state championship
resulted in one of the most inspiring sports stories ever told. That story
became a renowned book, and Friday Night
Lights, in addition to being high on my list of the best films of 2004, has
officially earned its spot amongst the greatest sports movies ever made.
Although the film
will strike fans of the game very personally, I seriously feel that you do not
have to be a die hard lover of football in order to get involved in the dramatic
story at hand. The story tells of the Odessa-Permian Panthers, and a crucial
1988 football season that presented some challenging obstacles for the members
of the team, especially the outgoing seniors of the team who are looking for
nothing more than to get out of Odessa. The team bears a huge weight of
responsibility for the town, since Odessa, like so many American towns, is
obsessed with high school football.
The team has what
it takes to make it, especially with cocky star player Boobie Miles (Derek
Luke), whose shot at college and NFL glory is purely foreseeable. For
quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), the desire to get out of Odessa is
there, but he hesitates at the thought of leaving behind his sick mother. And
for running back Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund), the only pressure that
exists is to measure up to his father, Charles (Tim McGraw), who was a star
player twenty years ago, and is now a frequent alcoholic who bullies his son
into becoming an even greater player than he was.
The coach of the
team is Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton, in one of his most outstanding
performances), who is pressured more than anyone to ensure an undefeated winning
season. The pressure comes not just from members of the school board, but fellow
citizens of Odessa, who demand that their home team go all the way to state.
Gaines faces an array of comments and criticism along the way, but handles it in
a calm and graceful manner.
Once the season
gets underway, the team faces a nasty turn when Boobie suffers a major leg
injury in the first game. It’s up to the rest of the team, who were always
used to backing up the unstoppable Boobie, to provide the strengths the team
will need in order to make it to state. With some setbacks along the way, the
Panthers manage to make it farther than people anticipated without Boobie in
For Boobie, though,
the future that was promised to him seems to have been taken away. He receives
an MRI, showing signs of a bad ligament and indicating that he may not be able
to play the game again anytime soon. A moment where Boobie breaks down to his
uncle about his future being ruined is one that will have your emotions rocked.
There is an
essential element that separates Friday
Night Lights from the traditional sports movie, and it lies with how
director Peter Berg has shot the movie. Along with his cinematographer, Tobias
A. Schliessler, Berg has brought an unconventional approach to telling this
story. The narrative has a near-documentary feel to it, and the result is a
magnificently realized portrait of high school football. The filmmaking approach
to the telling of this story is the factor that I responded to the most.
In addition, the
film has been given a unique score of music. The indie rock band Explosions in
the Sky has executed one of the most incredible and original music scores I’ve
heard in any film. It’s a mellow flow of guitar oriented pieces which don’t
sound like the kind of music you’d hear in a movie about football. The visual
style, storytelling approach, and music score combine to make this a superb
piece of filmmaking.
To sum it up, Friday
Night Lights is both a rousing sports movie, full of raw emotion, in
addition to being a stronger and entirely different type of sports movie. Peter
Berg’s directing takes the material to a whole new level, and the performances
by the entire cast, especially that of Thornton and country singer Tim McGraw in
his acting debut, are top notch and totally effective.
A piece of pure
cinematic power, Friday Night Lights
is sure to be noted as one of the greatest sports movies ever made, just as its
story is already regarded as one of the greatest sports stories ever told.
Director Peter Berg is cousin to Buzz Bissinger, who wrote the book “Friday
Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream”.
ADDED TRIVIA: Billy
Bob Thornton and Lucas Black have acted alongside each other once before. They
were in Sling Blade as Carl and young
The interesting thing about high school football is how much of it takes place after sundown. In college or the pros, a night game is an event, but for high school players, it's every week. As such, I was most impressed with the beautiful high definition rendering of this sports movie, considering a lot of it takes place after dark. Colors are natural and images are extremely sharp and well-defined, even in brighter or daylit settings.
You expect a lot of action in a sports-themed movie, and you expect that to translate to HD surround sound. In this case, you'd be right. The gridiron play makes for some dynamic and expansive uses of the rear channels and subwoofers, which contrasts nicely with the more mellow and contemplative sequences. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout, and the solid music score from Explosions in the Sky is also a big plus.
a good enough package of extras with this release. There’s a commentary track
with Peter Berg and author Buzz Bissinger, as well as Berg’s explanation of a
particular sequence, several deleted scenes, and three featurettes; “Tim
McGraw: Off the Stage”, “Player Cam”, and “The Story of the 1988 Permian
Panthers”. The Blu-ray also features BD Live interaction, a look at
the Gridiron Grads, and "Behind the Lights".
The Blu-ray also features BD Live interaction, a look at the Gridiron Grads, and "Behind the Lights".
If you think Friday Night Lights is anything like a traditional high school sports movie, you’re in for a major surprise. The result is a more personal, more dramatically involving, and emotionally powerful sports movie, in addition to being a strong piece of filmmaking.