Friday Night Lights, Tuesday night triteness

Oct. 13, 2004, midnight | By Armin Rosen | 19 years, 8 months ago

It's halftime at the Texas state football championship game and the Permian-Odessa Panthers are down by a lot. As their coach (Billy-Bob Thornton) gives a fiery locker room speech, the camera cuts between the battle-scarred faces of the game-battered gridiron warriors, capturing the blood, the sweat, the tears of high school football at its highest level.

At this point, one can't help but wonder, who the heck are all these people? What's with all these jump cuts? And how is it that a movie with such a straightforward plot (small town football team sets out to win state championship, drama ensues) can be so scattershot? Indeed, if you need reasons as to why Rocky and Olympia are considered two of the greatest sports films of all time then look no further than Friday Night Lights. Rocky is centered on Rocky Balboa and no one else; Olympia is a Nazi propaganda film about the 1936 Olympics, and therefore doesn't concentrate on plot or character development.

But Friday Night Lights suffers from a common ailment in the sports genre: lack of focus. Sports movies are simply too eager to tell their uplifting (and often very generic) stories and roll their credits. Most sports movies are watchable, but a select few are truly engaging. Friday Night Lights excels at being the former and fails at being the latter. True, director Peter Berg effectively evokes the almost disturbing ubiquity of high school football in a small Texas town. But we're given only momentary glimpses into the lives of the Panthers and their fanatical followers, and as a whole, the film's only notable accomplishment is its ability to execute the same tired clichés (the workaholic father-figure coach, the athletes with domestic problems, triumph over adversity, etc., etc., etc.) in a slightly more entertaining way than its sports-movie predecessors. Congrats, Friday Night Lights. You didn't bore me to death.

Normally excellence would probably be an unreasonable thing to expect out of a movie about a high school football team's death-grip on a small, west Texas town. But this is a movie that was being called one of the greatest sports movies of all time weeks before it even hit the theatres. This is a very good sports movie, yes. Billy-Bob Thornton manages to make viewers forget they're watching Billy-Bob Thornton, which is a career marker that greater actors than he have never quite reached (Robin Williams comes to mind). And the football scenes are brutal, violent and prolonged, just the way they should be.

But as far as substance is concerned, the film is about as empty as the vast west Texas plains. Events move at breakneck speed and the film ends without establishing a single interesting or meaningful character. But what do you expect? It is, after all, a sports movie.

Armin Rosen. Armin is a Seeeeenyor in the Communication Arts Program. "I am a journalist and, under the modern journalist's code of Olympian objectivity (and total purity of motive), I am absolved of responsibility. We journalists don't have to step on roaches. All we have to do … More »

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