Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

Friday Night Lights

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
6 out of 10
Extras Rating:
8 out of 10
Movie Details:
View here

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Rating: PG-13

Starring:
Billy Bob Thornton as Coach Gary Gaines
Lucas Black as Mike Winchell
Garrett Hedlund as Don Billingsley
Derek Luke as Boobie Miles
Jay Hernandez as Brian Chavez
Lee Jackson as Ivory Christian
Lee Thompson Young as Chris Comer
Tim McGraw as Charles Billingsley
Grover Coulson as L.V. Miles
Connie Britton as Sharon Gaines
Connie Cooper as Mrs. Winchell
Kasey Stevens as Flippy
Ryanne Duzich as Melissa
Amber Heard as Maria
Morgan Farris as Jennifer Gaines

Special Features:
Action-Packed Deleted Scenes

Peter Berg Discusses a Scene in the Movie

Player Cam

Tim McGraw: Off the Stage

The Story of the 1988 Permian Panthers

Audio Commentary with Director Peter Berg and Writer Buzz Bissinger

Cast and Filmmakers

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
French and Spanish Language
French and Spanish Subtitles
Running Time: 1 Hour 58 Minutes

Synopsis:
The following is from the DVD cover:

"A genuine stand-up-and-cheer movie about a courageous high school football team's fight to fulfill their destiny and live their dream, Friday Night Lights is 'unforgettable and real!' (Larry King) Billy Bob Thornton stars in a true American story of how one legendary Texas town made hope come alive under the exhilarating glare of Friday Night Lights! 'One of the greatest sports stories ever told' (Sports Illustrated) is now 'one of the greatest sports movies ever made!' (Larry King)"

Friday Night Lights is rated PG-13 for thematic issues, sexual content, language, some teen drinking and rough sports action.

The Movie:
Being from Texas, I can verify that high school football is a big deal, especially in small towns. And having gone to a high school that went to the state playoffs in the early 90's, I can also tell you that it's as big as any NFL game that you might see. So having a familiarity with the subject material, I was interested in seeing Friday Night Lights.

The movie features a lot of your sports movie clichés. You have the cool shots of the players pounding on each other. You have rousing speeches about teamwork and giving your all by players and coaches. You have threats from the fans and local rednecks. In fact, the first third of the film is just like any other sports movie that has a lot of pretentious lip service about how great football is. What sets Friday Night Lights apart from other sports films is that it departs from the formula in a few key areas. First of all, our heroes are heirs to a winning football legacy. They start out on top rather than being the perennial underdog. The focus is them trying their best to live up to that winning legacy. This movie also features more of their losses than their wins. The movie ends up being more about learning how to lose rather than being dominating winners. After all, there are more losers in football than champions. Finally, this film highlights the pressure put on student athletes. There is such insane pressure on the kids to win that they end up being almost mentally tortured. Few of them also have marketable skills which will take them beyond their high school football days. It's the emphasis on the expendable attitude towards these players that sets this sports movie apart from others.

The casting in the film is excellent. Billy Bob Thornton is first rate as Coach Gary Gaines. The way he deals with the players and the pressure from the town to win is impressive. It's an understated performance from Thornton, but one that makes him all the more realistic. He is re-teamed with his Sling Blade co-star Lucas Black who plays quarterback Mike Winchell. His intensity and drive to lead the team underlines the pressure on the kids. Derek Luke also stands out as Boobie Miles. He's cocky, self-assured, and highly skilled. Fame and fortune are well within his reach only to be snatched away by an injury. His story is one of the most poignant in the film. Then there's Tim McGraw as Charles Billingsley, the abusive father of one of the players. It's a breakout role for the country star, but his character is portrayed as being so twisted that it's hard to like him. It makes me wonder what the real Charles Billingsley thought of the film.

Peter Berg, whose cousin wrote the book that this film is based on, does a good job directing the movie. It often looks like a music video thanks to quick cuts and shaky cameras, but it gets the story across. A good mix of music in the soundtrack helps add to the testosterone charged feel of the film.

If you like sports movies or Billy Bob Thornton, then I think you'll definitely like Friday Night Lights. I found it to be entertaining enough, but there are others that I've enjoyed better. The fact that it was about a team from my home state made it novel enough for me to be interested in, but not enough to make me recommend it over other football flicks. It's pretty much in the middle of the pack.

The Extras:
There are a few bonus features included on this DVD. Not all of them are listed on the DVD cover:

Action-Packed Deleted Scenes – There are a handful of deleted scenes. Some of them appear to be deleted for the sake of time and story pacing while others seem to have been removed because they cast the players or Odessa in a bad light. One scene shows the maniacal fans making fools of themselves on television. Another shows Billingsley picking a fight with another one of the players by flipping him off. One deleted scene show's Boobie's uncle lamenting that he and the coach didn't encourage the kid to be anything other than a football player.

Peter Berg Discusses a Scene in the Movie – Berg briefly introduces this footage that was shot for Friday Night Lights after the studio saw a rough cut of the film. Berg explains why it was filmed and what purpose it serves. I think this would have been better left in the commentary.

Player Cam – This is some footage shot by the football extras for the film. They show their training, getting haircuts for the movie, clowning around on the set, and more.

Tim McGraw: Off the Stage – This 6 minute video highlights country star Tim McGraw's foray into acting. There's behind the scenes footage, interviews with Billy Bob and other cast members, and more. It's a lot of time to devote to one guy, but his fans will be pleased.

The Story of the 1988 Permian Panthers – This documentary shows the real guys that the characters were based on. All of the main players are here except for the coach. There is also some vintage footage of their games to go along with the new interviews. I just wish they would have addressed where the film departed from real life. (It might have been interesting if the real guys had provided a commentary.) If you enjoyed the film then you should enjoy this 21 minute look at where everyone is now.

Audio Commentary with Director Peter Berg and Writer Buzz Bissinger – This is actually a pretty good commentary. Since Berg and Bissinger are cousins, there's a lot of banter between them. But the fact that Bissinger was the author of the book means that he has quite a lot to say about the story and he adds a lot of details that aren't in the movie. It's the next best thing to reading the book.

The Bottom Line:
Friday Night Lights is a good sports movie. It's not the best ever made, but it does manage to break away from standard sports movie formulas to deliver a character driven look at high school football.

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