Monday, February 4, 2008

Friday Night Lights

"Friday Night Lights" (Peter Berg, 2005) I missed this movie in its first go-'round, but seeing the pilot for the eventual NBC series put "the hooks" in me. I wanted to see what had inspired the series, which had impressed me, and see if the movie was as good.

Short answer. Yes. And a bit better. It's another High School football movie, replete with all the drama that situation lends to it. The pressure on the kids to win. The pressure on the coach to make them winners. The crush of expectations, and the town's sense of worth wrapped up in the team. It's all there, but shot in the "caught off-guard" style of a documentary that gives it more power, more immediacy. You don't feel sympathy for Tom Cruise in "All the Right Moves" because, hey, he's Tom Cruise. But a bunch of nobodies, with the melodrama tamped down, takes it out of Hollywood contrivance, and makes you look away from the glare of stars and see into the drama. You begin to think that anything can happen. You begin to care. The film is dedicated to Alan J. Pakula, producer-director, who in the 70's made dispassionate, stylistically intimate films that had that same lived-in quality--"Klute," "All the President's Men"--even if it was Jane Fonda and Robert Redford on the screen. Here the biggest star in Billy Bob Thornton, who excells at low-key, lived-in, but even he feels like a bit of a distraction from the rest of the movie's verisimilitude, so completely does Berg maintain the illusion. It's a damned good film.

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