Blood, Sweat and Glory: An Inside Look at High School Football
Based on the bestselling novel, the film Friday Night Lights follows an entire season of the Permian Panthers football team. The team is located in Odessa, a small town in west Texas, which is of high significance in the film. This is so because in Texas, and even more specifically in Odessa, nothing holds more importance than the town’s football team. Football is religion to the residents of Odessa and because of the high school’s predominant success in past years, their town will not accept anything but success; in this case, success is marked by the class 5-A state championship. Every Friday night, the streets of Odessa are empty, as every resident of the town is packed in under the lights of their town’s stadium. The stadium acts as a sanctuary for both the players and residents to give their lives a sense of meaning. Moreover, the success of the football team does not just reflect the talent of the players, but rather the community as a whole because, in this culture, the image of one’s town is based on its team’s success on the gridiron. Much of the pressure that is put on by the community falls onto the shoulders of the Panthers head coach, Gary Gaines. In the film, actor Billy Bob Thorton truly embodies the appearance and mindset of a Texas high school football coach. He exemplifies the true “swagger” a head coach must have, especially in the town of Odessa: he is praised if the team wins, but holds the entire burden when the team loses. The town’s zero-tolerance attitude toward the performance of the football team is also exemplified by the numerous “For Sale” signs that are placed in the front yard of coach Gaines’ home after a loss.
Furthermore, one of the points director Peter Berg focuses strongly on is the pressure, both publically and domestically, that the players faced week in and week out. Berg represents this pressure through the character of Charles Billingsley, who takes parental involvement to a whole a new level. Billingsley has a son on the current Panthers team and demands that he perform at the best of his abilities to maintain his own legacy, having been a standout player himself and having won a state championship. Country music star turned actor, Tim McGraw, was excellent in depicting the over-involved parent. Billingsley’s aggressive attitude was depicted by his actions, which included walking straight onto the field to point out his son’s mistakes and embarrassing his son in front of the rest of the team.
More importantly, the other star of the film, Boobie Miles, is the team’s star running back and also the team’s very own prima donna. Played by actor Derek Luke, Miles is the player one loves to hate. He has excellent talent; however, his mouth moves as fast as his legs. Luke was a standout as the smack-talking running back that would always speak his mind and who brought needed comedic relief to an overall dramatic football film. Yet, what set Luke’s performance apart, was a scene in which he gave an emotional aspect to his role, when his character came to grasp that his future in football was coming to an abrupt end. In addition to the authenticity of the roles played by each actor, one of the things that set Friday Night Lights apart from other movies of the same genre is the validity of the football action. In past football movies, most notably Varsity Blues, the opposing players completely miss every tackle and the star players seemingly cannot be touched. However, in this film, the actual football action is more realistic in the sense that players were not just weaving their way up and down the field; the audience witnesses those crushing tackles that truly represent the genuine thrill of football. Director Peter Berg’s decision to shoot the football scenes with almost shaky, hand-held camera view gave the film an authentic feeling, considering almost all high school football games are filmed