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American Football movies hold little appeal to me. I don’t like the sport at all and when I was asked to review a film called Friday Night Lights I thought I was getting some classic British movie based in Brighton. How wrong was I on both counts!

Friday Night Lights

Film


Its 1988 and Texan high school American Football team the Odessa Permian Panthers are bidding for their sixth State Championship. The pressure is on. The school expects, the coach (Billy Bob Thornton) expects and the media expects them to win. Odessa is a very small town so if one player screws up it would take years for them (and their families) to be forgiven. We focus on some of the players: cocky Boobie Miles (Derek Luke), wildcard but ladies favourite Donnie Billinglsy (Garrett Hedlund) and leader Mike Winchell (Lucas Black). We watch these seventeen year olds bond, fight and cope with the pressures sudden fame brings. But can they win that all-important title?

Based on the multi award-winning book from Pulitzer Prize winner H.G. Bissinger, Friday Night Lights is one of the greatest sports stories ever. Even if you don’t know this true story or like American football, it’s a story about heart, commitment and values and touches upon life experiences in an unexpected way.

Friday Night Lights
The movie is shot in a deliberate documentary style format which does cause some motion sickness at times as the camera is forever roaming from left to right but after a while you do get used to this. It’s supposed to be very close to what actually happened with very little artistic licence being used, now I do find this hard to believe at some sections of the movie are pretty far fetched. But the feeling around the town that they might have a football team that actually achieves something is incredibly believable. Hell, we all know what it’s like when a local team goes further than the first round of the FA Cup, and this movie replicates the feeling of euphoria very well.

Billy Bob Thornton is his reliable self once more proving that there’s at least two people who in Hollywood who can do great character acting (Johnny Depp being the other one) and giving the movie a believable focal point to latch onto. The young cast are superb in their given roles, each one as believable as the next, especially Derek Luke who plays Boobie a man with the heart of a bear, Oscar material at times. It’s emotionally draining in parts with as many lows as it has highs. These fellas had fame thrust upon them and were given little direction or told how to handle it, everyone wanted to be their friend, girls wanted them and the town pressured them for a win. All these emotions are touched upon and never treat with complacency.

Friday Night Lights
Director Peter Berg (whose cousin wrote the book) gives the movie a huge injection of pace. The camera is never still for more than a few seconds, illustrating the urgency and euphoria the team experienced. He has replicated the era perfectly with some great set decoration and period detail. I know it was only seventeen years ago but its funny how things change in such a short space of time.

Video


The 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer is quite marvellous, rich in detail and colour throughout the duration. No scene lacks depth or colour, even when the palate is deliberately over bright. 95% of the movie was shot with hand held cameras and not once does the fast motion of the camera cause a problem with this DVD. The slow motion footage gives you the chance to see each short blade of grass or piece of sand and these moments help you fully appreciate the care taken in the cinematography.

Friday Night Lights

Audio


The Dolby Digital soundtrack is as impressive as the image using all speakers to full effect. It’s a noisy movie filled with a pounding soundtrack and loads of dialogue but it’s been mixed with great care and the voices are never once droned out by the enthusiastic score. The rears are used at every opportunity, especially during the game at the end of the move but are also used to create atmosphere such as the drunken party sequence. The deep bass emphasises and punctuates each heavy tackle given you the feeling that it was you that suffered that rough manoeuvre! Be careful though, the cheering crowd moments may have the neighbours banging on the walls!

Extras


There are quite a few extras on this set starting off with a selection of deleted scenes that were removed mainly for timing restrictions. They add little to the narrative and you realise why they were removed in the first place. There are ten in total and all are subtitled if you need to use that facility. The next extra ‘Peter Berg Discusses a Scene from the Movie’ is an excellent piece where Berg introduces a section from the movie that was inserted after the preview as the Studio believed that the first twenty five minutes of the movie were too hectic—a good insight into the working of the Hollywood machine.

Friday Night Lights
‘Player Cam’ is a poor puff piece running only for four minutes and shows the cast and crew fooling around behind the cameras. To be blunt it’s boring and a waste of disc space. ‘Tim McGraw: Off the Stage’ has the singer/actor detailing why he chose to play the charter of the abusive Charlie Billinglsy. It’s a good section where McGraw and some of the crew inform us of how the character developed from the script to the movie and it’s a shame it lasts only six minutes.

‘The Story Of the 1988 Permian Panthers’ is a strong segment detailing the source of this story and details some of the main characters, interviewing those who are still around today. It’s honest and refreshingly informative.

The commentary by Peter Berg and Buzz Bissinger is one of the better ones that I’ve heard, being full of anecdotes and interesting behind the scenes information. One of the few gag tracks around that is actually worth listening to all the way through.

Overall


In summary, Friday Night Lights is an incredibly accomplished movie. It may not have converted me into a fan of the sport, but it has made me appreciate the enormous strength of character it takes to become a success in the game. This is a great movie for any night.


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