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January 04, 2005

Friday Night Lights

2004.USA.Berg

1.5 / 4.0

I don’t know anything about the Permian Panthers, or their 1988 run to the Texas high school football state finals, so against my better judgement I have to give screenwriter David Cohen the benefit of the doubt. I’ll take everything that happens in Friday Night Lights as fact, shielding it from becoming just another cliché-ridden sports flick, even though the stock characters all make an appearance (son who can’t live up to father’s expectations, middle-aged drunkard who can’t let go of teenage past, injured superstar, etc.) But that Friday Night Lights focuses on these well known elements even though it has plenty of more original and interesting ideas bubbling underneath its Mighty Ducks surface means that the filmmakers are playing it safe. The issues of a town that is ominously obsessed with football (“They’re doing too much learning in the schools,” says a resident on a radio call-in show after a loss), the responsibility shouldered by the teenage players (Coach Gary Gaines: “The hopes and dreams of an entire town are riding on your shoulders. You may never matter more than you do right now.”), the desire of the young men to escape the small town lives of their fathers (“That's because he's out of here. He's got the grades. And no matter what we win or loose he knows he's getting out. He's got one foot out the door, man.”), and the uncertainty of a football career, or any dream, are much more fascinating than a last gasp downfield drive. On a brighter note, the filmmakers didn’t shy away from showing that in the championship game, in which the Panthers faced an all-black Dallas Carter team, it was a black ref who made the wrong call, benefiting the Cowboys. Although the film will no doubt be familiar to anyone who’s seen even a few sports films, there’s a certain amount of depth to Friday Night Lights that makes it mildly engaging. Just don’t let the football games distract you. Oh, and by the way, the jerky camerawork doesn’t mesh well with the otherwise slick production values. It’s like paying extra for used furniture. Some people do it, but I just don’t get it.

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