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Friday Night Lights: Hope comes alive for small town America

by Kyle Galdeira, Sports editor

 

When the lights come on Friday nights each fall at high schools across the country, it’s time for one thing: football. Friday Night Lights tells the story of the Permian High School Panthers and their quest for the 1988 Texas state football championship.

The film is based on the H.G. Bissinger book that is heralded as one of the five greatest sports stories of all time by Sports Illustrated. The story follows the team from Odessa, Texas under extreme pressure from the community to prolong the schools’ winning reputation. Each week 20,000 fans pack Ratliff Stadium—the largest high school football field in the country—and the town literally shuts down while everybody watches the game.

Billy Bob Thornton plays Coach Gary Gaines, a dedicated coach who is under enormous pressure from school officials and community members to bring the state championship home. The movie also focuses on six seniors and the life lessons they learn as they attempt to achieve success on the gridiron and earn college scholarships so they can leave Odessa for brighter futures.

As the season approaches, the team looks to star running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) as its anchor; Miles’ talent has earned him scholarship offers from all the top-tier college football programs, and he is expected to carry the team to the title. However, when Miles suffers a torn anterior-cruciate ligament in the first game, he is lost for the season.

Quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) has to step up and lead the offense, while backup running backs Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) and Chris Comer (Lee Thompson Young) try to fill the vacancy in the backfield. Billingsley has a tendency to fumble the ball, and to make matters worse, his alcoholic father Charles (Tim McGraw), a former all-state running back at Permian, beats him and ridicules him for failing to uphold the family reputation.

The defense, led by soft-spoken linebacker Ivory Christian (Lee Jackson) and defensive back Brian Chavez (Jay Hernandez), is undersized and learns to use its speed to control opposing offenses.

The film plays on the rollercoaster of emotions felt by the football team—the jubilation following sweet victory and tears after gut-wrenching defeat.

In order to make the football scenes as accurate as possible, a group of 40 actors was picked from a pool of 960 applicants to play members of the team. The actors had to endure agility drills and run the 40-yard dash as if attempting to qualify for a real football team. Over 100 plays were drawn up and taught by football experts to enhance the realism of the film.

Friday Night Lights marks the first Hollywood starring role for McGraw, a contemporary country music singer. The film is rated PG-13 for adult language and sexual content, teen drinking, and rough sports action.

 

 

 

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