‘Friday Night Lights' Review

Based on the book by H.G. Bissinger, "Friday Night Lights" chronicles the 1988 football season of the Permian High Panthers in Odessa, Texas. Producer John Cameron details the pressures and joys of a football-obsessed community.

As the nation's football passion rolls into the heart of the season, Universal Studios rolls out "Friday Night Lights" to the public tonight.

Based on the book by H.G. Bissinger, fortunately the movie "Friday Night Lights" shines brightest on the storyline of building a team around the pigskin rather than delving too deeply on the skin of high school romances. Producer John Cameron keeps the action intensely coming back to football while bringing out the snippets of the pressured life surrounding a high school team in the heart of Texas football making a push for the state high school championship.

Any current high school athlete can relate, and any former high school athlete can reminisce about the "good ol' days." Those on-screen has-beens are the ones applying the stress most solidly on the 17-year-old shoulders of their high school heroes.

The crux of "Friday Night Lights" is the tension felt by a group of leaders on the 1988 Permian High Panthers in Odessa, Tex., and their desire to push through it and succeed on their own. Their will to win is pushed to new levels by outside pressures.

"We're in the business of winning," Permian coach Gary Gaines, played by Billy Bob Thornton, tells his team before the 1988 season. "We will win state. Can you be perfect?"

Each of the main character-athletes feels the pressure in different ways — one from within, one from relatives, one from a girlfriend looking to ride the coattails of a high school athlete out of town, and all of them from the football-possessed community. Within that community is a sheriff wearing the state championship ring and the drunk father also obsessed with his past glory.

Star running back James "Boobie" Miles (Derek Luke) is the prototypical natural athlete, shunning weight lifting and hard and inspired only by the letters of interest he receives from powerhouse football factories such as UCLA and USC. Miles' drive to leave Odessa for better pastures is crushed by a season-opening knee injury he refuses to accept, turning him from a cocky athlete to a crybaby 17-year-old who realizes football is the only thing he had going for him.

Without their star athlete, the team struggles to find its identity, losing the second game of the season and causing Coach Gaines to return to a yard littered with "For Sale" signs and radio talk shows already calling for his head.

Quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) is hiding from achievement, afraid to become a star and held back psychologically by trying to hide the fact that he has a chronically ill mother. Fullback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) is tormented by his drunk father, Charlie (country music star Tim McGraw), who is a source of constant embarrassment and the typical over-involved father looking to rekindle glory through his son.

"Friday Night Lights" is a cross between athletes looking to get out of their football-crazy hometown, like Tom Cruise in "All The Right Moves," and team-building inspiration like that found in "Hoosiers." While you might hate the pressures that can be applied to high school athletes, it's also hard not to wish you were back in that setting and facing that challenge and opportunity, sharing in their hopes and failures. "Friday Night Lights" brings out all those emotions.

(Note: After seeing the movie, feel free to write your own review of "Friday Night Lights" on our messages boards. Just go to the "Message Board" pulldown menu above.)

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