Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Movie: Friday Night Lights (2004)

In HOOSIERS, Barbara Hershey warns high school basketball coach Gene Hackman about the impact success will have on his players. They will be treated, fleetingly, like gods. Hackman responds, “You know, most people would kill to be treated like a god, just for a few moments.”

It’s a powerful sentiment, and the heart of the sports movie. Which is why this sterling adaptation of H. G. Bissinger’s non-fiction book about Texas high school football feels like a rebuke to the entire genre. It says that hard work doesn’t inevitably lead to victory, and that disappointment is always lurking, even in triumph.

Peter Berg’s previous outings as a director (the overwrought black comedy VERY BAD THINGS and the quirky action flick THE RUNDOWN) were mismatches of material and ambition. But he’s right at home with the scope of this movie, which doesn’t focus on any one character but instead tells the story of an entire season. The approach is almost impressionistic. Only hints of the complex home life of brooding QB Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) are provided: a mother ill with an unnamed disease, a fractured family. The truth of the character plays out on the young actor’s face.

The acting across the board is first rate, with Billy Bob Thornton first among equals as Coach Gary Gaines. There’s an odd frisson watching his scenes with Black, seeing the two stars of SLING BLADE reunited. Derek Luke continues to dazzle, playing the team’s top offensive weapon suddenly laid low by injury. The cast gives full life to the town of Odessa, a place where football is seen as the only ticket out yet even the winners never leave.

Bissinger’s book is revered as a sports classic, and he may have lucked into another one. Last year he signed to write a baseball book that documents the strategy of a three-game series from the perspective of a manager. His choice? St. Louis Cardinals skipper Tony LaRussa.

Miscellaneous: Link

The B-Movie Hall of Fame inducts its new members. Who’s in there already if Sonny Chiba is only getting in now?