Friday Night Lights: The perfect remedy to Varsity Blues
Peter Berg's film based on Buzz Bissinger's best-selling non-fiction book belongs on the trophy wall next to other great high school sports movies in Hoosiers and All The Right Moves. Varsity Blues was a pale attempt at a more fictional screen versions of Bissinger's book, full of cliché moments, stylized cinematography and some pretty rough acting. Lights, however, follows the book closely, emulating its journalistic and documentary style until you feel like the players on screen are real, not Hollywood-ized caricatures.
And that is the important part of this film. The groundbreaking book showed America what is very wrong, and indeed right, in the most high-stakes football played at the high school level. The wonderfully understated acting by the entire cast fits perfectly with Berg's concept of the book. In order for this true tale to hit home actors have to be believable; they have to be real.
As for Berg, he does a good job using the camera to enhance the energy and the emotion of the film without getting in the way. There are few stylized camera movements if any, and the simple quick cuts during the games work effectively. At the same time, he doesn't feel the need to cut from a shot if it's bearing in on one of the characters, because we as an audience need to take long looks at these players who are treated--and abused--like professional athletes, but are in truth only seventeen years of age. The lingering shots help remind us that these are just kids, that they're young and fragile, despite how tough they may seem on the gridiron.
While the film is shot in a semi-documentary style, it does have some big hints of Hollywood in some parts of the dialogue and unspoken narrative. For the most part these scenes don't get in the way, and at the conclusion of the last game a very touching moment between two characters seems right in place. The emotion of the movie is heightened because of its authenticity, but the sentimental scenes just serve as a perfect garnish for the film's affect on its audience.