July 2, 2013

Friday Night Lights

Peter Berg, 2004


The Permian High Panthers are a high school football team that gives the depressing town of Odessa, TX hope... and also high expectations. The players are competitive yet innocent, looking ahead to their future while also trying to please everyone around them by bringing home the big victory. Based on the book by H.G. Bissinger.

Berg successfully captures the rapid pace of a football game, and augments his unsteady camera work with a transcendent soundtrack. Transitional shots of industrial rust-littered landscapes are peppered in throughout the film with beautiful, ambient musical elements that are reminiscent of early Modest Mouse. The high expectations resonate throughout the town, from the deadbeat old-jock father vicariously living through his son's athletic moments to the African American uncle who just wants his nephew to have a future more meaningful than his own. The high expectations of the Panthers do not just stop at the players. Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) feels the weight of the pressure on his own shoulders, and at times wonders if the long hours and late-night arrivals at home to a cold dinner plate are really worth it. Berg effectively paces the film to a big climax of a championship game. Versatile cinematography really puts you in the middle of the action on the field, although at times it's a bit erratic with jumping back to the scoreboard quickly and then back to the line of scrimmage. You find that you lose track of the game clock, presumably because Berg wanted to focus on the individual player drama more than the technical details of the game. Too often sports dramas have that cheese factor: repetitive shots and exhausting cliches with scenes that might as well play out to the "Chariots of Fire" theme on repeat. Berg avoids the cliches here and really paints a compelling picture.

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