177 - Friday Night Lights (2004)

Friday night is football night.

Odessa, a small rural town in Texas lives for every Friday Night. At this point of the week the shops close, residents abandon their homes and everyone heads to watch The Permian Panthers (American) Football Team.

Away from the matches though and this year's squad has its own troubles. Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) is constantly under scrutiny, with the passion from Odessa so great that when the team loses, he is forced to put his house up for sale; fullback Don Billingsley (Hedlund Garrett) has to endure his alcoholic father's over-expectations; and James "Boobie" Miles' (Derek Luke) arrogance is cut short with a career threatening injury.

The most important thing is though that the show must go on.

Theatrical Poster
Source: Wikipedia
If I'm honest, my initial pre-watch thoughts on Friday Night Lights included a wonderment for how a sports film could be on the list. A genre which is often glazed in comedy (The Waterboy) is rarely taken very seriously in American film (although The Longest Yard would be a fine example). The passion and grit for a national game appears to have mostly taken up in English film highlighted in the ultra-violent This Is England.

Secondly, I figured that a 'serious' film about the passion shown in American Football would have to revolve around a shameless show of patriotism.

Well, not quite. There's more to Friday Night Lights than national anthems and frantically waved flags (neither of which actually appear at all). It is a story of stories, following the coming of age of a group of 18-year-olds saddled with the expectations of an entire town.

I watched the film with my reluctant girlfriend (as in - reluctant to watch the film, not reluctant to be with me!) who wasn't overly keen to watch a sport she had little interest in. As the violence within the film escalated on the pitch, I was nervous about her reaction. When the film finished she calmly said at the end "yeah, three stars", which says to me Friday Night Light was more than just about the sport.

At heart, it's a character drama. Firstly, there is the arrogant person we love to hate - albeit with a twist that drags you into feeling sorry for him. Next up, the unlucky kid whose over-bearing father does more harm than good and followed by the one who is forced to shoulder responsibility despite not really expecting to play. Finally, the headstrong guy who already has his future mapped out. Basically there is probably someone you can relate your 18-year-old self to.

Aside from the players and it's Billy Bob Thornton who steals the show. His depiction of a coach that can go from elation to depression in a matter of moments is excellent.

And this, America, is why I need to make an apology. You proved me wrong. I'm sorry.