29 of 35 people found the following review helpful
Berg's Wise, Human Tale of Football and Small Towns...,
Ever since Peter Bogdanovich, in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, provided a comic view of a small town's total involvement in the fortunes of a high school football team (remember the verbal abuse the locals heaped on Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms when they lost the 'big game'?), Hollywood has attempted, with varying degrees of success, to make the 'definitive' small town/football film.
Director Peter Berg has finally done it, with FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS!
Based on H. G. Bissinger's best-selling tale of the 1988 season of the Odessa (Texas) 'Permian Panthers', the film unflinchingly paints a vivid canvas of a school and community obsessed with winning, as football provides the only release from poverty and desperation. While the concept is reminiscent of Tom Cruise's earlier ALL THE RIGHT MOVES, Berg doesn't glamorize the hero or tie things up, neatly, at the climax; in real life, while victories are savored, they are, at best, a temporary 'high'...while defeats can drive rational people into irrational frenzies. The Panthers' fortunes are such a crutch to Odessa's emotional well-being, that each game becomes a narcotic 'fix' for the entire community...a situation potentially dangerous for the players, and their coaches.
While Billy Bob Thornton has received the bulk of media attention, as the stern but fair head coach (with glowing reviews for BAD SANTA, and THE ALAMO, Thornton is having a career-defining year!), the film is really an ensemble work, with stand-out performances by Lucas Black, Derek Luke, Garrett Hedlund, and, surprisingly, singer Tim McGraw (as Hedlund's 'reliving past glories' father). The entire cast is exceptional, avoiding the easy pitfalls of simply playing stereotypes.
At times brutal and gritty, at times nearly surrealistic, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS refuses to fall into the clichés that marred VARSITY BLUES and THE PROGRAM, eschewing the artsy but smug self-righteousness of Oliver Stone's ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, as well.
This may well be the finest football film ever made...as well as one of the most honest portrayals of life in a small town.
I will be surprised if it doesn't make most critics' 'Ten Best' lists, at year's end, and is a major Oscar contender.
Peter Berg has gotten the formula right!