Droid defines the decades best movies – #20 Friday Night Lights (2004)

friday_night_lights_ver2 America is the only nation I can think of where common teenage high school kids are placed in sporting programs en mass, come under extraordinary pressure to perform, and are called failures if they don’t succeed. Sure, this is not exclusive to America, but rarely are those kids considered failures, and told their future is ruined, if they don’t achieve this success in non-academic activities. ‘Friday Night Lights’ is about that pressure. It comes from coaches, family, students, media and even strangers. These kids are under the microscope, every success celebrated, every failure criticized.

Based on the non-fiction book written by H. G. Bissinger, FNL is the story of the Permian Panthers, a high school football team in Odessa, Texas. Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) is set for the new season. He’s got a solid team and has designed all of his offensive plays around star player Boobie Miles (Derek Luke). With BoobieFNL 1 on the team, expectations are for an undefeated season and a state championship. But when Miles injures his ACL early in the season, Coach Gaines must contend with the mounting pressure to find a way for the Panthers to win.

Gentlemen, the hopes and dreams of an entire town are riding on your shoulders. You may never matter again in your life as much as you do right now.”

FNL 2Remember, these aren’t adults and this isn’t pro football. That’s some pretty big pressure for a seventeen year old, and along with each players personal problems, you feel an empathy towards them that transcends this story into one a little bit deeper and more involving than the average sports movie.

Quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) doesn’t really love playing. He’s doing it more out of obligation to gain a scholarship and hopefully make it out of Odessa. Fullback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) has to contend with his overbearing father, a high school star that never moved on, while Safety Brian Chavez (Jay Hernandez) doesn’t need to rely on football to guarantee his future as he is academically adept. We follow these three as they navigate being local celebrities, the pressure of winning games and the uncertainty of their future.

FNL 5 Lucas Black is a terrific actor. I remember seeing him about fifteen years ago as a little kid in ‘The War’ and then as Billy Bob’s friend in ‘Sling Blade’, and thought to myself that he will be one to watch. Since then he’s put in some fine performances, mostly in supporting roles. Here he plays a quiet, serious character and shows subtle depth and emotion. It’s a good performance. Also very effective is country singer Tim McGraw as Don’s drunken and abusive father. The character could’ve played out as a simple villain, but is given time to develop and when you see just how much he’s living in the past, your hate for the character shifts to pity. The guys a loser, who can’t get passed that one year of his life where he was a winner. Billy Bob is good as well, but the focus of the story are the kids, and that’s where your sympathy lies.

FNL 3 This is, by far, Peter Berg’s best film. That’s not saying much because both ‘Hancock’ and ‘The Kingdom’ were average, ‘The Rundown’ was fun, and ‘Very Bad Things’ was hateful garbage. FNL is in another league. Being based on a true story is important to the impact of this film. High school can be difficult enough without the added burden of trying to meet unachievable expectations. The fact that kids like these had to do so (and still do) live with such pressure is something that’s completely foreign to me.

FNL 4 FNL is a great film, and has apparently become a great TV show (I’ve not seen it). It is less about the sport they play or will they win the big game, than about how and why they play it, and how these characters change and grow. It surprised me when I first saw it, and upon re-watching it, has remained an effective, entertaining and moving movie.


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About Judge Droid

In between refining my procrastination skills I talk a lot of shit about movies and such.

30 responses to “Droid defines the decades best movies – #20 Friday Night Lights (2004)”

  1. Droid says :

    What’s Stander? Never heard of it.

    Just amend your mint list.

  2. Droid says :

    he does a few films here and there to pick up some money then gets the fuck out of Hollywood as fast as he can.

    Explains why he’s not in many flicks. Shame. Why can’t fuckheads like Freddie Prinze Jr or Jude Law do that?

  3. Droid says :

    Good stuff. I’ve not seen the elvis one or the other tv one. And there’s probably a few more I haven’t seen of his as well.

  4. Tom_Bando says :

    The thing of it is, High School Football is raised to almost Ridiculous heights in places like Texas. You wouldn’t believe it. It’s the way the town heiarchy is run, it’s how people compete and it’s their status symbol. It’s hard to fathom if you aren’t personally familiar w/ the scenario. “Very strange.

    • xiphos0311 says :

      Bando its not just Texas. I played on two different high powered teams in AZ that were just as insane. Hell the other one I played on, while not as good, was just as nuts.

  5. xiphos0311 says :

    Droid FINALLYyou picked a legitimately GREAT movie. The only real nitpick I have with it is that Berg made a Hollywood ending. in reality Panthers lost to Carter. Other then that this is a great movie and the TV show is just as good if not better.

    The book is excellent also. when I do a reading with Xiphos about sports books FNL will be on it.

    • M. Blitz says :

      The book is really good. Fascinating from start to finish, and it reads really quick. I haven’t seen the movie, though. Is it very different?

      • xiphos0311 says :

        Except for the ending it’s not much is different, they got the highlights or in some cases the low lights. I thought Berg did a god job with catching the sprite of the book. Lucas Black as Winchell was spot, I mean like note perfect. He nailed what that kid went through and why he did it.

        FNL trivia Buzz Bissinger the writer of the book is Berg’s cousin.

      • M. Blitz says :

        Hmmmm. Been awhile since I read the book, will have to give the movie a look. The detail that sticks out the most is the bit about the kid concealing an infected testicle that had swollen to grapefruit proportions so he could still play. Harsh! Ouch!

      • Droid says :

        I also want to read the book.

    • Droid says :

      Well, I may as well stop my countdown right now. My mission is complete. I’ve pleased Xi. Huzzah!

      I was reading about it on wiki when I was finding the names and I read that the Panthers lost to Carter in the semi, not the final. And the score was much different (14-9 i think) and it was Carter who made the game winning run at the end. But despite that, I like the Rocky style end to the movie where, although they don’t win, they prove themselves. The old adage, it’s not about win or lose, but how you play the game.

  6. xiphos0311 says :

    Carpenter’s Elvis! I had forgotten about that movie. I remember I liked it a lot when I saw it on TV back in the day. Kurt was was excellent as Elvis.

  7. M. Blitz says :

    I am looking forward to that, Frank. But geez, how many gigs did that torrent take!?

  8. xiphos0311 says :

    Tom Petty was a kid actor? I guess it was before his face mutated?

  9. Jarv says :

    I’ve never seen this. For some reason.

  10. koutchboom says :

    Hey I like this as well. How come we can never bring up these movies in conversations?

    Anyone else notice the Rugby Mual towards the end?

  11. ThereWolf says :

    I’ve heard of this, though it’s not the kind of film I immediately gravitate towards.

    I do think Lucas Black should be in more stuff. I remember him in a TV series but can’t think what it’s called. It was set in a town and there was a guy who was like the Devil or something, might have been a poilceman. Very weird show. But interesting…

    But I thought then that the kid had some screen presence and have been surprised not to see him in the more popular movies.

  12. xiphos0311 says :

    American Gothic Is the name of the TV Show Wolfe and it was excellent. I suggest you give FNL a go its a very very good movie and Black is top drawer in it.

  13. ThereWolf says :

    American Gothic, that’s the fella! Cheers.

    I don’t watch a lot of telly and I have problems following a series, I just don’t get into weekly stuff.

    But American Gothic hooked me, kept me watching. Very good.

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