Friday Night Lights
God, football is a shitty sport. Brutal, violent, stupid, played by people so padded they don’t even look human anymore. Only ice hockey and boxing are worse, and it’s a close call. This is a movie that is almost overwhelmed by its technique (see The Son). Almost every shot is very close, few shots last more than 3 seconds, many much less than that, and the camera is never steady. If I’d seen it in an indoor theater I’d have had to move to the back row to make it intelligible at all. Now, this works fine for some stuff, when there’s a lot of action, where chaos is the order of the day, as in the many very well-done sequences of football action. But I ask you, is it necessary to jiggle the camera in a shot of the scoreboard at the end of an empty stadium, after the game? Do you really have to focus on the actor’s eyebrow with a moving camera that periodically eclipses everything in the shot by moving around a bedroom where nothing is happening but a quiet conversation? The director will tell you that he was going for a documentary feel, and as I said, sometimes that works, but a movie should vary its pace and shots to really engage the viewer. Or maybe that’s only the fifty-something viewer. The conventional wisdom nowadays is that the computer-game MTV generation has an attention span of about three frames of film, that they won’t watch anything more sedate. Maybe they’re right.
It’s too bad, because under all the flash, this is a pretty good story. It’s more about the pressure of football, of all sports played by children too young for that kind of pressure, than about the sport itself. The parents will tell you that it’s character-building, and sure, it can be, but not the way most of these parents in Odessa, Texas, go about it. The whole town, for that matter. As a Texas boy, I can tell you it’s all true, though I have no first-hand experience; I was too skinny and slow for football, any predatory coach could see that in half a second. I don’t think I ever played more than ten minutes of football in my whole life. But I saw the madness in my own little home town of Nederland. We won the State AAA Championship the year before I got there, and half the town went way up to the panhandle to lose to those ding dong daddies from Dumas when I was a sophomore.
The best thing about the film is Billy Bob Thornton … and how many times have I typed that sentence? Off the field he is a quiet man, his gaze saying more than any dialogue could about the utter madness surrounding him. Are these people for real? On the field, he can be as brutal as the situation warrants (after all, the object of the game is to go out there and hurt those bastards on the other side), but can reach for and attain true inspiration in the locker room. This is a true story, and it is a bit shocking when Odessa loses the big final game in the Astrodome. This is not how sports stories are supposed to go. But it is satisfying. Too bad it was so goddam arty.