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Friday Night Lights

Genre: Drama
Rated: PG-13
Directed by
Produced by: Brian Grazer
Released by: Universal Pictures

In Short: A brutally honest, unsentimental look at American small town life, viewed through a high school football team's effort "to go all the way to state."

Bright Lights, Big Talent
By Andrew Bender

A small West Texas town pins its hopes and dreams on the Permian High School football team as they pursue a fifth state championship. At the start of the 1988 season, Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) is under pressure from the townsfolk of Odessa to "go all the way to state" after falling short during his first two years as coach.

As the locals scrutinize every move made by Gaines and his squad, players must also deal with serious personal issues: shy quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) has a chronically-ill mother, hot-shot running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) suffers from a serious knee injury, and troubled tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) nearly suffocates under his abusive father Charlie (Tim McGraw).

Based on H.G. Bissinger's book Friday Night Lights: A Town, A Team and a Dream, the numerous triumphs and heartaches of this true story are virtually absent of melodrama, thanks to director Peter Berg (The Rundown, Very Bad Things). The actor/director's lens brings viewers close to the action on the gridiron, but it's his unsentimental focus on Odessa's obsession with the team that gives the movie its emotional legs. While Berg manages to pull touching performances from all of his actors, country star Tim McGraw is particularly impressive in his feature film debut.

The town's racism, covered extensively in Bissinger's book, is also present in the film—most notably surrounding a big game between an all-black high school, and the treatment of Boobie Miles once an injury threatens his season. Refreshingly honest, Friday Night Lights is a warts-and-all winner.

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