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"Friday Night Lights"

Directed by Peter Berg.
Written by David Aaron Cohen and Peter Berg.  Based on the book by H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger.
Starring Billy Bob Thornton, Derek Luke, Lucas Black and Tim McGraw.
Release Year:  2004
Review Date:  10/12/04


The choices over this past weekend were slim in the mainstream multiplexes--"Raise Your Voice", "Taxi" or "Friday Night Lights."  My sister Cate nixed "Taxi", my brother Dave nixed "Raise Your Voice", and we all agreed that "Friday Night Lights" had the best shot to keep the family intact.

It's 1988.  In a small town in Texas, Odessa-Permian High School has a football team that on paper looks like one of the best in the school's vaunted history; the four-time state champion at the 5A level, in '88 the school had a running back named Boobie Miles (played here by Derek Luke from "Antwone Fisher") that might have been the best in the country, and as the film opens for pre-season camps during the sweltering August sunshine, recruiters from every major school in the land are out to recruit Boobie to play football for them next fall.  Led by aw-shucks coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), the team--nicknamed "Mojo" for reasons not ever explained in this film--sets its goals early--win all of its games that year and win the state championship, or heads are gonna roll!  Along the way, we get the normal set of ragtag players that come together to try to win the big one, including the sheltered mamma's boy at quarterback (Lucas Black), the son of a former local legend (Garrett Hedlund), the undersized defender with the heart of a lion (Jay Hernandez), and the stoic All-American candidate that is absolutely all-business (Lee Jackson).

I loved "Friday Night Lights", not necessarily because it is always a great movie so much as it is exactly as advertised.  We get a lot of football action, we get the steady diet of football drama, we get Billy Bob chewing on the fat as the profanity-free coach, and we get high school parties.  The first comparison my sisters Cate and Sydney made upon leaving the theater was to that ridiculous James Van Der Beek flick "Varsity Blues", which was a movie about high school and football, but for a number of reasons, that flick wasn't as good as "FNL"...mainly because the football scenes weren't very well done.  I thought the football in "FNL" was fantastic; sure, there are the unusual number of plays that end with someone not just getting tackled but damn near mauled by defenders, but there are also plays that just go quietly; a screen pass here, a run up the middle there, etc.  I hate it when football movies decide that on every single play, somebody gets hit so hard that their helmet flies off or someone breaks their leg Krumrie-style.  I just thought that things were balanced well, until the final game, when naturally everything has to be amped up to meet the needs of the scene, which director Peter Berg does nicely.

I also left the flick very impressed with Berg's work here; after the shitty "Very Bad Things" with Christian Slater, he did good work with "The Rundown" and "Friday Night Lights" continues on a steadily-increasing skill set.  The pacing between football scenes is excellent, the acting by the leads is good ensemble work, the chemistry seems to be complaints with the aesthetics at all.  The soundtrack does get to be a little too over-the-top warfare; hard rock and drum cadences do the lifting here, keeping the trench mentality apparent at all times.

While the script is normally pretty strong, I thought it went a little too "movie" at times in its depiction of some of the speeches and the slow-motion that movies of this genre always seem to fall into.  Okay, maybe it's all true, but sometimes the lines out of some of the players' mouths at the most crucial moments just felt a little too scripted.  I also thought that in the film's final segment, as the Mojo prepares to play against an all-black team that apparently was the best team in the nation that year, the film didn't go deep enough into the race-related tension that was apparent as the teams prepared to play each other; at one point it seems like it will brim over into trouble; then, during the game, save for the normal smack-talking between teams, it seems to dissolve almost entirely.

But, I was very impressed with "Friday Night Lights"; while not a movie I'm likely to ever sit down and watch again, it was an enjoyable time thanks to solid across-the-board filmmaking and the fact the script is based on a true story.

Rating:  $9.50 Show


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09