Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Friday Night Lights

2004, US, directed by Peter Berg

Like many sports movies, this is less about the on-field action than it is about Life, particularly since the many football plays are often compressed into rapid-fire montages, with the exception of the last game, which occupies the final quarter of the film. Life, in this case, is more particularly life in hard-scrabble Odessa, west Texas, a part of the US that takes its football very seriously indeed (the H.G. Bissinger book on which the film is based is as much social study as sporting history). As Odessa's economic fortunes have declined, the town has concentrated ever-more of its energies on the fortunes of the high school football team, with the seniors, in particular, under immense pressure from virtually everyone in town (these folks put the fan in fanatic). The film follows the real-life 1988 season, where great expectations appear to be dashed early on with the injury of a key player (played, with great verve, by Derek Luke). Since football dominates the routines of the players almost to the exclusion of all else - we never see them set foot in a classroom - it's inevitable that their life-lessons are acquired through the prism of sports. Their coach, Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton, perfectly cast), is the prime adult presence in their lives, shielding them from much of the circus that surrounds them, but also imparting what wisdom he can in the pressure-cooker atmosphere. While sports movies are generally about triumph over adversity, there's a bittersweet air over everything here, a sad sense that nothing in life is ever going to have quite the same electric charge as a senior year of high school football. Director Peter Berg has an excellent eye for the details of Odessa's football obsession, and an affection for his mostly unknown cast, who acquit themselves well; his occasionally hyperactive camera is the only unwelcome distraction.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States