Friday Night Lights (2004)

(On DVD, June 2008) I may not know or care much about football, but this adaptation of the now-classic Buzz Bissinger book is a solid hit even if it glosses over much of what made the original so interesting. Forget about the sociology of football-mad Odessa, Texas and focus on the raw energy of this tale of high-school players being raised to demigod status: Director Peter Berg delivers a film that sizzles with pseudo-documentary energy, using hand-held camera and terrific editing to deliver an experience that keeps us engrossed throughout. Some of the material created to suit the dramatic needs of the film can feel overdone, but fans of the book will recognize little details, characters and incidents that would have been excised had the book been adapted by less-passionate hands. The performances from the ensemble cast are all remarkably good, from Derek Luke’s overconfident athlete to Billy Bob Thornton’s pivotal coach, steady under terrible pressure. The sheer cinematographic density of the first half-hour is mesmerizing, daring us to follow along or sink in the process. And even football morons like me will be swept along by the film’s final act. I’m not even interested in picking apart the film for what it doesn’t include from the book: this is as good as adaptations ever get, leveraging the strengths of a medium against the things it cannot faithfully represent. On the DVD, don’t miss the informative (if occasionally defensive) director’s commentary, or the where-are-they-now featurettes.

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