on January 28, 2005
My Gawd, I love football.
'Tis a sport that offers the purest microcosm of life: Play as a team--succeed; play as individuals--fail. Those of us who have strapped on the pads and grunted and groaned in the trenches know this incontrovertible truth all too well. A single unit is much greater than the sum of all its individual parts, and this stellar truism is manifested magnificently in Peter Berg's sensational film FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS.
Again, I love football, and I particularly enjoy football movies that capture the grit and dark hubris of the sport, but this film stands alone in its overwhelming ability to portray a game, a west Texas town, its residents, its players, and its shameless addiction to the gridiron to a degree that transcends every single facet of human existence. In a community intoxicated with football, in a culture intoxicated with football, in an infrastructure that lives, eats, breaths, and sleeps football, the 1988 Odessa Permian Panthers are about to embark on a spectacular odyssey that will catapult and devour them at the same time: a magical, mystical season taking the coaches and players up and down the peaks and valleys of high school sports nirvana.
This is a film that garners attention to itself for infinite reasons. A great story, based on a bestselling book. Cinematography second to none, thanks to Tobias A. Schliessler, that gives the movie its gritty, handheld, "documentary" feel. A fast-paced, action-packed, totally believable series of scenes, augmented by an absolute killer soundtrack. And acting--oh yes, some very convincing, authentic, been-there-done-that acting.
As great as this film is, it is enhanced by the talents of the players who bring west Texas football to life before our very eyes: Lucas Black as a scowling, brooding, ultimately insecure quarterback Mike Winchell; Derek Luke as the budding NFL superstar "Boobie" Miles, whose knee injury derails his career and summons one of the most poignant scenes in the film; Jay Hernandez as steady, reliable Brian Chavez; and Billy Bob Thornton as Coach Gary Gaines. Thornton is a gifted actor, but this is perhaps his best role, as he portrays a man obsessed with getting his team to the pinnacle of success--yet disgusted with the one-dimensional, win-at-all-costs mentality of his current gig. Thornton is flawless; he does exceptional work.
Three other characters moved me, and moved me considerably. Perhaps, because I can readily identify with all of them. Garrett Hedlund plays Odessa tailback Don Billingsley--a troubled soul because his father, a former jock (Tim McGraw) refuses to accept his son's perceived inattentiveness and does nothing more than relive his own glory days two decades before. I know so many men who suffer exactly from the same malady, and could readily identify with the character, despite his shortcomings. Yet, at the end of the film, when troubled father and son reconcile problematically, I was very much affected.
Finally, I identified with "Preacher," the stoic, silent, solid defensive end from Permian, played by a somber-faced Lee Jackson. He went through the hell of two-a-days, saying nothing. He went through the trials and tribulations of the regular season, saying nothing. He saw games won, games lost, players come, players go, but still his resolve was not shaken, and at last--during halftime of Permian's game against very formidable Dallas Carter for the state championship--he released his fury and anguish to his teammates to fight and scrap and persevere, the character rose above the din and ruckus to prove, very admirably, how sports is, once again, a splendid microcosm of life.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS is a whirling Texas twister of entertainment. The film is priceless; the DVD extras remarkable. This product is quality entertainment, top to bottom. Highly, highly, highly recommended.
--D. Mikels, author, WALK-ON