I sometimes think my friends are nuts. They’re a little picky in movie theaters but they’d watch any crap. I always think a great movie will remain great no matter where you watch it. I saw this film on a plane’s itsy bitsy screen. I was groggy and annoyed that my movements were limited for 12 long hours. Thank goodness it’s “Friday Night Lights” I was watching. Suddenly my discomfort was forgotten and I was immediately transported to Texas circa 1988.
The story is quite simple. We follow a high school football team through one season. There’s Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), the starting quarterback whose smiles are scarce and barely adapting to the pressures of the game at the age of 17. The team’s star player is Boobie Miles (Derek Luke), who might be a cocky running back but undeniably gifted. Tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) is trying to keep his head together while he controls his abusive, alcoholic father (country singer Tim McGraw). Their new coach is Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) who isn’t easily intimidated by the town’s demands to take the team to State.
As sports team movie goes, this is one is the tops. It follows the formula of typical sports movie but somehow it becomes extraordinary. Maybe because the movie is based on true events and it even enhances its authenticity by its gritty, documentary-style approach. There are no Olympian heroic scores to be heard. You neither get the feeling you’re watching a legendary figure nor a historic event. The movie wants to be simple and true, where the characters exhibit human qualities rather than appear like caricatures. Gaines as a coach neither possesses the traits of a strict disciplinarian nor a peppy cheerleader. Thorton supplies Gaines with courteous manners and honest reservations as a man in his position would have. Surrounding Thorton is a striking trio of Lucas Black, Derek Luke, and Garrett Hedlund, who infuse their roles with some powerful and raw performances.
“Friday Night Lights” also contains what we love about sports movie. We see some spectacular football plays and hear the roar of oh-so-die-hard fans. It gathers so much momentum towards the Big Game’s last second that I couldn’t fathom how cringing the anticipation and realistic the suspense were. I had no clue as to be prepared for defeat or triumph. And no sports movie is complete without the locker room speech and this movie has Thorton delivering the heartfelt truth about the meaning of perfection. By the time the movie ends, the feeling is haunting and unforgettable. I truly admired the movie for its honesty and I came away very grounded and humbled. What a touchdown!