Movie Review
Friday Night Lights
Friday Night Lights poster
By Craig Younkin     Published October 11, 2004
US Release: October 8, 2004

Directed by: Peter Berg
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton , Derek Luke , Jay Hernandez , Lucas Black

Running Time: 117 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $61,188,085
We really begin to care about these characters, and what's even more striking is that their story becomes a powerful and heart-wrenching piece of work.
Friday Night Lights is a film not far from the treading ground of Varsity Blues. Both films are about small Texas towns where football means everything to High Schoolers and even more to their parents. There are several other clich?s that this sports movie opens up, but in a movie like this you can come to expect them. What is surprising about this one in particular is how it eventually does develop a life of its own. We really begin to care about these characters and their situations, and what's even more striking is that their story really becomes a powerful and heart-wrenching piece of work.

The story is set in Odessa, Texas in 1988. The Permian High Panthers are getting set for another season, and of course the small town and the media are buzzing about the talent that they think can go all the way to the divisional championship. Boobie Miles (Derek Luke), the big-time running back with an even bigger mouth, is the top guy on the team. Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) is the introverted quarterback who must balance taking care of his sick mom and playing ball. And Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) is the back-up runner who can't seem to get a hold on the ball, which his abusive father (played by Country music star, Tim McGraw) always lets him know about in the most embarrassing way possible.

They are coached by Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), a guy who feels the bulk of the pressure even when he walks into his office. He is constantly bombarded by townspeople who want to discuss defensive strategies. He is threatened with win-or-be-fired. There is even a "For Sale" sign put up in front of his house after he loses his first game. Through all this, you begin to respect the guy more and more for his mental toughness and his ability to stand up to even the harshest of adversity. Thornton does a really flawless job of bringing this character to the screen.

But even though it is Thornton's name on top of the marquee, this is more of a showcase for three young stars with a lot of talent. Black is compelling as a character torn between his mom and the game. Luke gives a cocky swagger to Boobie that later turns to fear and desperation when a knee injury takes away his football career. And Hedlund plays his character with something to prove, both to his teammates and his abusive father. These three up-and-coming actors play these different subplots with very little sentimentality and the result is three lives that come across as all the more hard-hitting and real.

No stranger to hard-hits, director Peter Berg does a masterful job with on-the-field play. Berg directed last year's "The Rundown" with The Rock. The whole concept for that was brutal wrestling style action in the jungle. This time it's brutal, bloody action on the field and every hit is enough to either pump you up or make you cringe. Berg's camerawork also does a lot to magnify the game, going from the field to the crowd to a sideline to sideline view. He also gives us a glimpse at inside the locker room and the game time strategy. It's all enough to make any football fan excited.

Friday Night Lights proves that football isn't just a game to these young guys. They put their heart and soul on the line in every game just to attain a shot at glory, and you can see just how badly they played for it by their war torn faces. This is a movie that celebrates the game and the players? determination to handle any kind of pressure. "Lights" is a must see for anyone who loves the game of football.
Craig's Grade: A-
Craig's Overall Grading: 340 graded movies
Share, Bookmark
'Friday Night Lights' Articles
  • Greg's review A
    October 16, 2004    It is an extremely accurate portrayal of how hard a sport it really is, both physically and emotionally. -- Greg Ward
  • Crowd Report: "Friday Night Lights"
    October 9, 2004    From what I saw with the 10:10 show I was at, it?s looking like a $5 - 6 million Friday gross. -- Lee Tistaert
  • Friday Box Office Analysis (10/8)
    October 9, 2004    With generally positive reviews in its favor and attracting young and middle aged viewers, Friday Night Lights benefited from its wider appeal, as well as from the limited, intriguing options in the marketplace. -- Lee Tistaert