“Friday Night Lights” is not your typical sports movie.
Based on the true story of the 1988 Permian High Panthers football team, the film explores not only football, but also all of the people involved with the sport. And, do not take the phrase “all of the people” lightly.
In Odessa, Texas, high school football is everything for everyone. Stores shut down on game nights, dinner conversations center around the Panthers’ next game and anything will be done to bring home a championship. One thing that makes this film so good is its willingness to explore the way football affects the town and those who live there.
The season looks promising for the Panthers. They have new coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) and a star athlete Boobie Miles (Derek Luke). But when Boobie gets hurt early in the season, the team faces many challenges it will need to overcome to make it to the playoffs.
The film chronicles not only the team’s season and the struggle for perfection, but the lives that are affected by each and every pass as well. We see a troubled mother desperately hoping for her son to move out of the small town and on to something bigger. We see a father pushing his son to be the best, to win a championship ring and to enjoy the time he plays football because it is all he will get in life. We see the pressure to be perfect.
The small town of Odessa struggles to be known for something. While the film succeeds in many respects, possibly the most admirable is its portrayal of the hopes of the townspeople. It does not downplay the importance of football for them, nor does it make their desire to win seem silly. Instead, it explains that every game for them means something more. Each game is an opportunity to win at something, one that they may not have again.
Peter Berg, who wrote and directed the film, chose to film much of it with a hand-held camera and grainy footage. The atmosphere this technique creates is real, making it appear to be a video, not a movie. It shows the good with the bad, the beautiful beside the ugly. We get the feeling that we are entering the life of each player. For two hours we become a part of the team, a part of the community, and soon we want the Panthers to win just as much as the characters do.
“Friday Night Lights” rises above the typical sports movie in its attempt to understand the athletes who play football and the people who have an investment in the team. The film studies the struggle to win and the motives behind the struggle. It explains to us that football, for the people of Odessa, is more than just a game. It is a representation of their dreams and expectations, and most importantly, an opportunity to have pride in themselves.