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FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, 2004
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FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS MOVIE POSTER
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, 2004
Movie Reviews

Directed by Peter Berg
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Lucas Black, Garrett Hedlund, Derek Luke, Jay Hernandez, Tim McGraw
Review by Brent Randall



SYNOPSIS:

Based upon the 1988 Permian Panthers, a Texas High School football powerhouse, this story follows the players and coaches lives and the pressures they face in pursuit of their goal, a state championship.

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REVIEW:

"Friday Night Lights" is the story of the 1988 Permian Panthers as they pursue their goal and their dream of winning a state championship. The story centers around the head coach, Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), the quarterback, Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), the star running back, Boobie Miles (Derek Luke), the fullback, Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund), a talented defensive end, Ivory Christian (Lee Jackson), and the coach on the field safety, Brian Chavez (Jay Hernandez). Each character's life is explored and examined in this detailed character study through their quest for their dream, and the pressures of high school football are brought to the forefront through this riveting drama.

Based upon a true story, Permian High School is a traditional high school football powerhouse and anything less than a state championship is unacceptable. Coach Gaines, which is brilliantly played by Billy Bob Thornton, is fully aware of this, and regardless of previous successes, Coach Gaines knows his job security only goes as far as the current season. This point is driven home time and time again as Coach Gaines interacts with community members, touchdown club members, players, and booster supporters. Friday Night Lights does a wonderful job of illustrating the pressure Coach Gaines and his family faces and gives a truthful depiction of what high school coaches experience throughout this country. Having coached high school football in a traditional powerhouse, I have experienced the struggles and challenges Gaines faces and the pressure placed upon his family.

However, these pressures are not limited to just Coach Gaines. Every single member of the team is subject to the same thing, and while these guys play because they simply love football, the community tends to forget these are simply high school kids who most of them will never play another down of football beyond high school. However, one would not know this based upon the expectations placed upon these kids. Boobie Miles, the star running back, is one who can move beyond high school, but he fails to realize that football might not always be there. For he has been raised to play football, study football, and nothing else, including his academics, is supposed to matter in Boobie's world. Boobie's future is football, and without football, he feels he is worthless. Sadly, this is true for many young athletes competing in high school football, and just like Boobie finds out, football, being the violent and vicious game it is, can be taken away forever on any given play. The true sad part is the parents and guardians of these athletes often fail to convey to their kids that there is life beyond football, and it is likely to come sooner than later.

Many parents even sacrifice their relationship with their kids in doing so. Friday Nights illustrates this beautifully through Don Billingsley and his overbearing, alcoholic father, Charles (Tim McGraw). From the first day of practice, we see this when Don fumbles the ball. Charles charges the field and literally begins hitting his son upside the head, cussing him profusely about why Don is an embarassment to his father because he is not playing football at the level he should be. Throuhgout the film, this trend continues, and Charles fails to recognize he has a wonderful son simply because Don is not the star athlete Charles was. Without a state championship, which Charles won at Permian, Don will always be seen as a failure in his father's eyes. Through the interaction Don has with his father, we can truly feel the pain and fear he feels on a daily basis. The tension between Don and Charles could be cut with a knife, and the simplicity of the scenes with his father are real, are honest, and allow this tension and pressure to seem real to the audience.

This is also seen through quarterback, Mike Winchell. Winchell has grown up in a single parent home with a mother who loves him dearly, supports him fully, but is a little off kilter. Football for Winchell is almost an escape from reality of his home life, but that escape is limited because of the pressure placed upon him. He is the quarterback of the Permian Panthers, and the quest for a state championship ultimately lies with him. While every kid dreams of being in his position, no kid realizes how much pressure the community will place upon him, and it becomes difficult to be a normal human being and focus on life outside of football. Winchell is the ultimate hero, and while we have Superman, Batman, and James Bond in our culture, Winchell is a real life hero who finds a way to take on this responsibility and shine. Lucas Black gives a wonderful depiction of Winchell, and again, the simplicity of the dialogue and the scenes add a real-life effect to this film, which, in my opinion, makes it easier to relate as humans.

Simply put, Friday Night Lights is a great film through and through. It is not overdramatic like Varsity Blues. It gives a real life depiction of what high school athletes experience. It paints a true picture of how high school football really operates and the people who really run high school programs. The football sequences are realistic with no over-emphasized hits or plays. The acting is simple but superb, and it is the best football film I have ever watched. However, this film gives us more than just football, it drives deep into relationships between coaches and players, parents and kids, students and faculty, and educators and the community. It shows us that goals are good, but how you strive to reach those goals may prove to be more important. And mostly, this film shows us how to succeed and be winners even in the face of defeat.

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