There's an uneasy "is that all there is?" subtext running throughout "Friday Night Lights" - it's there in the pre and post game revelry; it's there in the storefront "Gone to the Game" signs; it's there in the radio talk show snippets that alternately proclaim and shred the embattled coach, and it's there in the memories of those who either once lived or who want to live the dream of winning a championship. When I view a film like "Friday Night Lights" I'm more interested in the characters and their motivation than in the outcome of the big game, and on this score the movie delivered in a big way.
For Coach Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton),winning the state championship is not an option, it's a matter of where he and his family will live next year. The followers of the Odessa-Permian Panthers take their football seriously, as do all the fans of all the football teams in all the towns of East and West Texas. In that regard, the movie realistically depicts the rabid and obsessive fervor that grips the town on game day after game day.
For the players, it seems that there is no time to relax, and life outside of football is virtually non-existent. Team quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black) is in the game because he has the talent, but it's never quite clear that he even likes to play. Running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke) has an ingratiating charm, you'd like to smack him for his cockiness, but he puts points on the board. Receiver Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) faces a tougher opponent at home than he ever sees on the football field, his father (Tim McGraw) is a one time football champion himself, who can't crawl out of bottle or the memories of his championship season. When Don drops a pass in practice, the father's reaction is one of rage and humiliation, so much for positive reinforcement.
The movie follows the Permian Panthers on the way to the final state championship game with all the highs and lows, wins and losses in between. It's a harrowing ride, particularly after superstar Boobie blows out a knee, and refuses to face the reality of life without football. After all, this was to be his ticket to the big time, pro ball and all the trappings that go with being a football hero.
The locker scene between halves of the championship game is a defining moment. Coach Gaines can get into his players like no one else can, and he finds just the right words to inspire his players to do the undoable. You just know how this game will end. Or do you?
For me, the movie succeeds in challenging the viewer to re-evaluate one's concept of winning and losing, knowing that when the game's over you have to be able to look your fellow players in the eye and know that you did everything you could for the team. And once the game is over, the game is over, there's no going back and no do-overs. In that respect, it's a lot like life.