Friday Night Lights
There are two movies on director Peter Berg's list of credits: "Very Bad Things" and "The Rundown." The first movie was a dark comedy about despicable people. The second was an action film starring the Rock. "Friday Night Lights" is based on what many consider to be one of the greatest sports books of all time. Sadly, Berg manages to combine characteristics from his previous two films. This one is a very bad thing that should drop like a rock in the box-office standings right after it's released.
Almost all good sports stories contain obligatory moments: the evolution of the coach's game strategy, the team overcoming an injury to a star player, the motivational speech by the one player who's a mute, and the final game where the team overcomes adversity to defeat a far superior opponent. Bafflingly, Berg has eliminated these moments in favor of the crunching sounds of one player tackling another and enough camera-shaking and jump-cutting to make a music video director weep with reverence.
The film is about Texas high school football and how Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) leads the Permian Panthers to the state finals despite an undersized quarterback, Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), and an injury to their star running back, Boobie Miles (Derek Luke). Apparently, the Panthers also have to overcome Gaines's total lack of football knowledge, because we see no evidence that he can successfully tell the difference between a helmet and a jock strap.
Usually, in a movie about young men overcoming adversity, there's some critical moment that establishes their bond. After losing Miles to a knee injury, the team's season is going down the drain when the third-string running back rips off a TD scamper and suddenly everything is back on track. In terms of believable plot evolution, I'd have been less surprised had the kicker started scoring 100-yard field goals by shooting the football out of his ass. One minute the team sucks. The next minute it doesn't. It's like Berg had a magical "Solve Plot Problem" button on his camera.
Defensive end Ivory Christian (Lee Jackson) is that player who never says anything, so when the team is down and out in the state final and he decides to finally speak up, it makes sense to hear him. What does Berg do instead? He covers up Christian's speech with lots of screaming and random locker room shots. The guy has a disturbing obsession with noise. It's that moment where chills should run through the spine, yet the audience can't hear -- or even see -- the speech.
A director is essentially a quarterback of a film. Tragically, Berg handles the ball like a drunken amputee and as a result, "Friday Night Lights" fumbles badly.
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