Friday Night Lights (12A)
Time Out saysIn the Texan town of Odessa, high-school football is no game. Based on HG Bissinger’s best-selling account of the Permian Panthers’ 1988 state championship season – a study beloved of sports fans and sociologists alike – Peter Berg’s potent drama depicts a post-industrial town whose entire emotional, even spiritual life is vicariously invested in a bunch of teenage athletes. Not just local celebrities, fawned over or reviled as results dictate, the Panthers are latter-day warriors: filing out for training to a military score, the squad have the bearing of a platoon on exercises, or gladiators primed for sacrifice. ‘We are in the business of protecting this town,’ intones Billy Bob Thornton’s otherwise sensitively subdued coach – not from attack but despair.
Sharing its subjects’ sports-centric tunnel vision (there’s no hint of academic activity for these schoolkids), ‘Friday Night Lights’ achieves considerable emotional impact by dissecting the various ways such intense pressure bears on these kids, who pass most of the movie with gritted teeth and furrowed brows. Taciturn, painfully conscientious quarterback Mike (Lucas Black) struggles to balance obligations to family, town and himself, while tearaway tailback Don (Garrett Hedlund) is loaded with the bullying expectation of his deadbeat dad, himself a washed-up former champ; only cocky star player ‘Boobie’ Miles (Derek Luke) actually relishes the experience, preening, strutting and crowing until injury strikes him with the force of bereavement.
Working with a subdued palette, Berg maintains a strong momentum, regularly ratcheted up for games (and the occasional social encounter) in episodes of rhythmic, almost musical montage and sound design. The affecting, gruelling result is less a document of recreational sport than one of obligation and ordeal.
Fri May 13, 2005