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Movie Review: "Friday Night Lights"

You may have noticed that this blog has transformed from a nearly total Cubs blog into a movie review site in the last week.

This isn't intentional, of course -- I'd much rather be writing about the first two games of the Cubs/Cardinals NLCS, but that would be in an alternate 2004 universe, not this one, and frankly, there hasn't been much Cubs news worth talking about, and it's way too soon to do any speculating about what they might do for 2005, except for the recent coaching staff shuffle, so with the temperatures rapidly dropping through the 40's, leaves turning yellow and red and orange with equal rapidity here in the city, it seemed appropriate to see this film.

If you don't already know, this movie is based on a well-known book by sportswriter H. B. Bissinger, about real events that took place in Odessa, Texas, in the late 1980's, regarding the Permian High School football team, a team that, if you believe the book and also the way it is realistically portrayed in the film, is nearly a professional team to the people in Odessa, those who follow it (at one point you see "boosters" almost barge into the coach's office with unsolicited advice on how to run the team), and the pressures it puts on 17-year-old kids who want nothing more than to impress their girlfriends (or, the reverse, with girls chasing after football players), and get the heck out of small-town America.

There are two focuses (foci?) here -- the coach, well-portrayed by Billy Bob Thornton, and the star running back, "Boobie" Miles, who seems well on his way to a stellar college football career (we see dozens of college recruiters in one scene), until an untimely injury. The coach is devoted to his players and to the program, but you see clearly the effects it has on his family life -- he almost seems like an itinerant worker at one point.

There are other stories, about the quarterback whose mother drives him harder than he wants to be driven, and the other running back whose father had won a state championship for the same high school more than 20 years earlier, and who drives him so hard that the two have a love-hate relationship...

and what makes this film so effective is that these are all real people, with real stories, and I have no doubts that this sort of thing still goes on in many high schools across the country, where they are far from large cities with professional teams, and so they adopt their local teams as the bigger-than-life people they want to root for, and in this SportsCenter era, that may be even larger pressure than it was in the era to which the book and movie refer. The movie capsules the 1988 season in particular, and as Cubs fans, you will relate to the way that athletes and fans think that something is theirs, only to have it ripped away from them at the last possible moment...


Sports movies, "Chariots Of Fire" notwithstanding, don't generally get Oscar consideration, and "Friday Night Lights" probably won't, although I'd like to see that. Thornton, however, ought to be a dark horse choice for Best Actor. He's been nominated for that twice ("Sling Blade", "A Simple Plan"), and he dominates this movie without being dominating, if that makes any sense.

Well worth your time, riveting and engaging. And not for kids, incidentally -- it's rated PG13, but there's quite a bit of language and sexual situations that are simply not suitable for young kids.

AYRating: *** 1/2