a critiQal film review Friday Night Lights (2004)

Plot: Gary Gaines (Thornton) is a coach of a local Texas high school football team. There's a lot riding on this season, because, in Texas, football isn't just a game - it's a way of life. All hopes for the season lie with star player Boobie Miles (Luke). But when he's sidelined early on, will Coach Gaines be able to bring his team to a victorious season anyway?

Reviewed
708 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 32s)
  • ...Billy Bob's performance (aside from speeches and snickers) starts the downfall that spirals when the other performers aren't able to take up all of his slack - but at least the football sequences are good.

This has been hyped as the best football movie of all time. Of course, the reviewers seem to say that about every single football film that comes out. Before this, it was Any Given Sunday – before that, The Program. So I didn’t really hold much stock in that opinion – there are a few greased palms somewhere to get that kind of rave review for every single football movie that comes down the pipeline. So, I wasn’t sure about Friday Night Lights.

I wasn’t so excited about seeing the film since it did star the ugliest movie star working in the business today – Billy Bob Thornton. But, I thought there might be a chance for him this time – as an old grizzled coach, his grotesque appearance might just be able to give him a little character that his acting usually fails to bring forth. With a little trepidation, and looking forward to at least watching a few decent football sequences, Heather and I settled in to watch Friday Night Lights.

Billy Bob, uglier than sin as usual, does an okay job in Friday Night Lights in his role as the head coach of this football team. He’s at his best giving an impassioned speech, or trying hard not to grin as everyone and their brother gives him coaching advice. Unfortunately, that’s about where his acting abilities end. The rest of the time he seems a bit confused, unsure as to what to do with what he has. It’s not surprising this team has a few bad turns – if the coach is unsure, it doesn’t really install confidence.

Originally, the viewer might think this unsureness is just a part of the film, trying to really convey what the coach was going through. However, as Friday Night Lights continues, the easier it is to realize that it’s just Billy Bob’s sad contribution to the script – the players continue to be pumped up supposedly by the strong convictions of their coach – but Billy Bob doesn’t show that conviction at all. It’s pathetic to watch, and ends up pushing the viewer out of the intensity the film tries to convey. The more the film tries to pull the viewer in, the more Billy Bob does his best to push them away.

The other characters (Derek Luke and film newcomer Tim McGraw among them) are all rather ill-used in Friday Night Lights, mostly due to the unattachment the viewer will feel towards them. They put on decent performances, but since the viewer has already distanced himself from the film (thanks to Billy Bob), that when the performances fall a little bit flat, it will be much more obvious, and serve to distance the viewer even further. Luckily, the football sequences help pull the viewer back in a little.

The football sequences are the real highlight of the film. The viewer is able to get a bird’s eye view of the action, but the camera makes sure the viewer is right there when important events occur. It’s fun to watch, but because of the distancing resulting from the rest of Friday Night Lights, the viewer will most likely be thinking network TV could spruce up their football games with a few decent camera angles, rather than becoming much more involved in the storyline of the film.

So far, I’ve only seen 2 football films: The Last Boy Scout (1991) and this film, Friday Night Lights. After seeing The Last Boy Scout (1991), with it’s non-stop action off the field, but only brief action on the field, it got me hyped to see more football films.

Unfortunately, I picked Friday Night Lights. Billy Bob’s performance (aside from speeches and snickers) starts the downfall that spirals when the other performers aren’t able to take up all of his slack. Sure, the football sequences are good, but not much more so than watching a Sunday game with your favorite team.

The Lights definitely shouldn’t be on this Friday Night flick – and for some strange reason, I feel like I’m still being nice to this film by giving it 2 1/2 stars.

Still, I haven’t yet given up all hope in football films – Any Given Sunday (once I finally see it) will hopefully restore my faith in big-screen football.

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