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Friday Night Lights

Hope comes alive on Friday nights 

Year: 2004 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 (Scope) 
Certificate: BBFC 12A Cert – Under 12s admitted only with an adult 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Unknown 
Starring: Unknown  
An image from Friday Night Lights

An American football film directed by the guy behind Welcome to the Jungle and starring a collection of high school American brats, as well as the guy who compares being with Angelina Jolie to shagging a couch. Sounds awful? Well, assuming that and missing Friday Night Lights would be a great mistake, as somehow it manages to be one of the most impressive, kinetic and elegiac sports movies ever made.

In a town of used-to-bes and never-weres where sport is the only ray of light in an otherwise thankless existence, the Odessa High School football team have the weight of a thousand faded hopes and inherited dreams on their shoulders. Trained by the earthy, brow-beaten Coach Gaines (Thornton on top, subtle form), these kids will stop at nothing to prove themselves, to make their town proud and maybe even open up paths for themselves to new lives faraway from their barren dustbowl of a home town.

Taking a true story and allowing his characters to breathe and develop rather than fit into easy stereotypical roles, Berg's film is leaps and bounds ahead of other American Football movies. The pain, desire and youthful dreams of the team are deftly brought to the surface, and elicit genuine emotional attachment as the season continues, reputations are forged and hopes are dashed.

Of course, the football scenes are as kinetic, crunching and engrossing as expected, with the added weight of the knowledge that these kids need to win, that these matches really matter, and the repercussions will affect far more than themselves and their coach. This is not a story of heroes and legends in the making, of victories against the odds and happy endings. Crucially, it's the portrait of a people who look to winning as a way of validating their own existences, who mould their children to fit their own images, and the inevitable pain and heartbreak that emerges from the cracks that form on the punishing football field.

Melancholy, brutal and all too convincing, Friday Night Lights will make you glad you never were a jock at an American High School. Strong, powerful stuff, and so, so impressive.

Greg Taylor

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Screenings of this film:

2005/2006 Autumn Term (35mm)