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Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

Billy Bob Thornton
Lucas Black
Garrett Hedlund
Derek Luke.
Peter Berg.
David Aaron Cohen.
Running Time
117 minutes

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Friday Night Lights
Billy Bob Thornton leads in this sports movie that's not about sport

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Based on a real-life story and book, Friday Night Lights follows the dramatic 1988 season of high school American football team the Permian Panthers, led by noble-minded head coach Gary Gaines (Thornton). This is a season that will come to enfold all the hopes, brutal realities and personal tragedies of a hardscrabble town called Odessa, lost among the desiccated plains of Texas.

Stop right there. If you've read the premise for this vivid, compelling movie and have immediately switched off at the thought of another story about that incomprehensible, herky-jerky US sport, you should know different. Yes, this is a film about American football, but it is so much more. It is a stark survey of the hold sport has on life, with its tribal allure and power to devastate both supporter and player. Directed by sometime actor Peter Berg through the framework of an earthy coming-of-age saga, the grunt 'n' buckle trade-offs of 'football' have never felt so profound.

There has been some criticism of the deviation from factual detail to fit a more emotionally telling template, but it is a formula as passionately reproduced as any Rocky, Seabiscuit or Bull Durham. The wounded star player forced to confront the end of his playing career before it has even got going is as ragged a moment of honest pain as anything Mike Leigh could cook up on a London council estate. Country and Western crooner Tim McGraw shrinks his cowboy brio into a drunken brute of a former football hero facing up to the bitter realisation he has come to mean nothing more than history. Meanwhile his son, not half the player, has to bear the brunt of his hopelessness. "After football, it's just babies and memories," he glumly reports, father-to-son. A hell of a thing to lay on a 17-year-old.

Which is the whole point Berg and his cousin, original author H.G. 'Buzz' Bissinger, are making - in what sane world does a tender bunch of kids in the prime of their life have to carry an entire town's neuroses?

As the team coach, Thornton is the honest-to-God kinda guy who, ironically, sees through the devotional haze; winning isn't everything, it only feels like it. This should all ring very familiar. The all-consuming obsession of Odessa, down to radio phone-ins and car park confrontations, carries the same religious patter as rabid soccer support does here. They are the heartbeat of whole communities.

Berg is smart enough to find something suspicious in this and also the absurdity that Bissinger observed: the coin-toss to decide a tournamentÆs outcome, the real estate signs staked out on the coach's lawn after defeat, the inverse racism applied to influence referees ("zebras"). Such detail allows the film to breathe, keeping it aloft from the go-go sport-as-American-metaphor cliches too often hung on the game. The swaying emotion of the seesaw season carries a universal clarity. You want these boys to triumph. In fact, you will long for it. The action has the punching, rhythmic edits of genuine sports coverage, and in among the players' lives the handheld camerawork has the unblinking force of a documentary. Yet, Berg's delivery still possesses an essential movieness, and his film has a mythical reach, skies filled with the contrails of unattainable dreams. These are less the tones of the melodramatic sports milieu than the romantic Western, the young cowpoke's rite-of-passage transmuted from the chaparral to the stadium. And when you read the written coda of what happened to the real kids, it's a note of pure heartbreak. So stay for the closing credits, if for nothing else but to stifle your sobs.

The best sports movie for years, as it's not about sport at all. Forget fears of jingoistic grandstanding, this is an un-American all-American tale that deserves attention.

Reviewed by Ian Nathan

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Average user rating for Friday Night Lights
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Friday night lights

A real view of what high school football is really like. I enjoyed it ! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by antosh25 at 04:37, 05 December 2011 | Report This Post

When I first heard of the movie, I thought it was going to be like the other sports film wandering around. But, God, this IS a film. An inspiring, stunning take on sports films. One of the best films of the decade, to me at least. ... More

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Posted by nc_jj at 01:08, 06 July 2011 | Report This Post


Guy cracks me up ! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by elimonator at 11:14, 06 May 2010 | Report This Post

Friday Night Lights

Amazing.... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Anthony13 at 08:39, 30 June 2008 | Report This Post

Friday Night Lights

Amazing.... ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Anthony13 at 08:39, 30 June 2008 | Report This Post

it broke me ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Bezerker at 20:28, 16 March 2008 | Report This Post

A great film. Great performances especially from Thornton, Black and McGraw (who knew he could go that dark). Well written and directed. A good movie about football for people who don't like football. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by lynnshep at 22:12, 18 April 2007 | Report This Post


A supremely affecting, endlessly moving tribute to the lives and obsessions throughout America's backwaters, Berg never once aims for limp and tired coming of age cliches. Instead we see a bunch of kids struggling to make something of themselves, their town and their brief chance at glory. Viewed through a cold, hand-held eye, the raw fear, emotion and infrequent joy of a Texan town's weekly escape is both immediate and utterly compelling. Extremely powerful stuff. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Eomer_King at 11:35, 24 February 2007 | Report This Post

The Beautiful Game

The Best Sports movie EVER! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Roar at 20:36, 09 January 2007 | Report This Post


Just like the game itself ... More

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Posted by peteabel at 08:59, 31 August 2006 | Report This Post

Awesome film!

A truly awesome movie, probably the best sports movie i've ever seen. It starts a little vague and slowly draws you in, but before you know it you feel all the pressure these kids are under and its an amazing sense of claustraphobia brilliantly executed by the director. By the end of the film your emotions are fully tied in with the players. Awesome movie fully recommended! ... More

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Posted by discodave101 at 19:24, 16 May 2006 | Report This Post

one of the best of 2005 ... More

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Posted by taz_e at 09:04, 07 January 2006 | Report This Post

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