January 29th: Thursday Evening Stars

37. Friday Night Lights (Peter Berg, 2004)

 In 1988 the economically depressed town of Odessa in Texas once again wound itself up for the start of another High School American football season with the expectations being firmly that their team would win the state championship. This film follows their season as Coach Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) struggles to live up to the expectations of the entire town and guide his young charges through the most difficult period of their lives. Friday Night Lights may well be the finest sports film I have ever seen (I’ve not got round to watching Hoop Dreams yet so it may be a placeholder). This true story may not be the most fascinating in the genre, Coach Carter and Remember the Titans vie for that honour also, but it is by far the best presentation. And whilst the other films present social issues in conjunction with their sporting story they fall guilty of cliché far too easily and allow the story to ride roughshod over any attempt to create something more than a simple plot procession. By contrast Friday Night Lights is crafted with an altogether more intelligent hand. Peter Berg uses his now trademark ‘over-the-shoulder’ style for the character interaction which captures the studied intensity of the performances, Lucas Black’s self-doubting quarterback especially. For the games Berg leads in with beautiful, almost abstract, soaring camera shots of the stadia backed by the excellent score courtesy of Texan group Explosions in the Sky. The build up is matched by the action of the matches themselves as crunching tackles mix with huge hopeful ‘Hail Mary’ passes all framed against the sprawling open air pitches.

There’s much more to say about this film and I could go on but I think I’ll draw a line under it there but not before one more special point. The scene where star running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) breaks down to his uncle was probably the most moving in any film I’ve seen so far this year. Really very upsetting in its emotional context.

Note. Special thanks to Nathan for recommending the film and waxing lyrical about it at every opportunity and to CEX for selling it at the ridiculous price of £1.50.