Why do the worst sports have the best movies? Ice hockey has Slap Shot. Baseball has The Bad News Bears. And now American football has Friday Night Lights - the finest film about the boring bits between beer adverts since Burt Reynolds tackled the system in The Mean Machine (aka The Longest Yard).
The game is fridge-sized fellas standing around in Joan Collins blouses and bike helmets waiting for the next 0.3 seconds of play. But director/co-writer Peter Berg understands the drama. For the small-town teens in HG Bissinger's Pulitzer-prize-winning source material, this season is a lifetime highlight.
"After this, it's just babies and memories," says one lank-haired admirer to Lucas Black's concerned quarterback, while Garrett Hedlund's running back has to contend with the merciless expectations of his hard-drinking dad (Tim McGraw). In fact, the whole town of Odessa is clinging to the high-school football team as if it can bring back its glory days and crush years of decline and disappointment under the feet of victory.
And any victory is going to be hard fought. Pounding and brutal, the games are like off-cuts from Gladiator - - young warriors knocking the hell out of each other to driving Public Enemy tracks. Derek Luke is spot-on as cocky star player Boobie Miles (""Y'all wanna win? Put Boobie in!""), dancing through the opening game like he was born in the shadow of the Superbowl. Certainly, he feels he was born to win. While the coach (a superbly contained Billy Bob Thornton) clearly disapproves of the town's sport-is-all mentality, he understands that for these kids football isn't just a game, it's their potential ticket to superstardom.
Berg balances the personal drama with the on-pitch plays perfectly until the third quarter, where the focus falls more firmly on Black's rather bland token lead. But the team carries the day - managing to touch, even when down.