Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Friday Night Lights

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic issues, sexual content, language, some teen drinking and rough sports action

Reviewed by: Kenneth R. Morefield, Ph.D.

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens, Adults
Drama, Sports
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Universal Pictures
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Featuring: Billy Bob Thornton, Derek Luke, Garrett Hedlund, Jay Hernandez, Lucas Black
Director: Peter Berg
Producer: Brian Grazer
Distributor: Universal Pictures

“Hope comes alive on Friday nights”

Plot: Coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) tries to lead a talented but undersized high school football team to the Texas state championship. Based on H.G. Bissinger’s book documenting the actual events surrounding the 1988 season, the film is rated PG-13 for some sexual content, portrayals of alcohol abuse, language, and sports violence. WARNING: SOME IMPLIED PLOT SPOILERS IN THE REVIEW.

When I was a college student in the mid 1980s, one of the buzzwords in the evangelical subculure was “idolatry.” It became fashionable to call anything that someone was interested in his or her “idol.”  Eventually, my Inter-Varsity staff worker chided us a bit in a talk, making the distinction that idolatry is not just an enthusiastic devotion to a person or practice.  To be an idol, she suggested, something must take a central place in one’s life, become a central preoccupation around which one arranges his or her life and to which one gives not just his time but also his heart and his hope.  To simply be enthusiastic, disciplined, or preoccupied was not necessarily idolatry.  I always appreciated and remembered that talk, because it reminded me that Christians can and should be passionately engaged in all areas of their lives, not as a replacement for their faith but as an expression of it.  That being said, I use the following term consciously and deliberately.

In Odessa, Texas, football is an idol. “Friday Night Lights” is more thoughtful than most sports films, and its success is in direct proportion to the ambivalence it feels towards the fanatical devotion that the players, parents, and community have for the sport. The film understands that idols always promise more than they give and take more than they promise.  It also captures the melancholy and desperation inherent in professional football coach Bill Parcell’s admission that the losing hurts more than the winning feels good.  “Friday Night Lights” shows that the euphoria of winning is not a zero sum transaction that is proportional to one’s own effort or suffering but is made up in large part of relief at escaping or forestalling the agony felt by the statistical majority of participants who give everything they have but are denied the prize for which they sacrifice all else.

If this were the film’s only message, however, it would not be as effective as it is. The film is not a celebration of fanatical devotion, but neither is it an indictment of it. The film skillfully manages to be sympathetic towards its subject matter without excusing it. In the final montage in which we get the typed over “where are they now” updates, we find that only one player on the team received a Division IA football scholarship and that none of them went on to play professionally.  Yet many of them, shockingly enough, seem to have managed to have reasonably successful lives, carving out a place in the world with the help of discipline, devotion and work ethics that have been instilled in them by the pursuit of a championship ring rather than the ring itself.

The book of Ecclesiastes chronicles one man’s inventory of all the things he has vainly hoped will give his life meaning.  In his commentary on this book, Jacques Ellul points out that idolatry provides a false hope which, when shown to be illusory, often leads to an intense hatred of the object of previous devotion grounded in the disappointment felt when it does not meet our expectations of filling the emptiness in our lives.

This process is illustrated perfectly in the film’s presentation of  Charles Billingsley, the father of the team’s second string running back.  Tim McGraw’s performance deftly avoids the inherent clichés in the character of the obsessive sports parent to craft a man whose contempt for his son’s inability to achieve football success is gradually revealed to be a thin and ineffectual mask at his own disappoint that his success has not been enough to make his life meaningful and his own self-loathing that he has not been able to provide anything for his son except a promise—winning this championship will be enough to balance out all of life’s other disappointments—that he knows not to be true.  His son’s quest becomes all the more poignant when we see it not as a vain attempt to win a monster’s love but as a desperate attempt to soothe a beloved parent’s aching, wild, pain, an attempt made all the more desperate by the gnawing suspicion that even if it is successful, it will probably not be enough.

There is a lot of imagery in film, including the final scene, about how values, hopes, lessons, and maybe curses, are passed from generation to generation. The primary lesson is that there is nobility and reward in passionate engagement in life, that pursuing a goal that is beyond your reach brings with it the strength and character that can feed and sustain you emotionally, physically, and perhaps, for a time—spiritually.

The curse is that these rewards are inextricably linked to a game that is arbitrary and undependable: happiness is never assured, and, once attained, it can be take from you at any moment.  “Friday Night Lights” works best in its moments where it is most honest about the curse as well as the hope.  That it ultimately blinks in the face of its material and tries to manufacture a feel good, “this is what was meant by success all along” message out of its ending keeps it from being a great movie.  That it avoids merely using the subject matter as a pretext for depicting the sex, the drinking, and the fame (all of which are portrayed but not lingered over) that give this particular idol much of its seductive power makes it a pretty good one, and one that invites (but doesn’t force)  its readers to contemplate the subject matter rather than merely celebrate it.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Mild

My Grade: B+

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive—If you can get past the first 15 minutes of the movie, it turns out o.k. I would not recommend it for children; but it makes a good point about not placing all you hope in your ability to do something. Because your talent can become a thing of the past.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Alecia, age 29
Positive—I know I may be in the minority here, but I didn’t find the partying scene to be very graphic at all. It IS a PG-13 movie, and I thought the partying was depicted as totally empty. Consider that both “sex scenes” weren’t focused on sex. The first came in after they were done, and the quarterback was especially shaken up by it: This isn’t who he is. The second one showed no nudity and was more about the father and the son than the girl. She just happened to be there.

In general, I thought the film was wonderful. I appreciated the fact that there really was no headlining actor in the film. Sure, Billy Bob Thornton is the coach, but the film focusses just as much on the quarterback, the star athlete, and the receiver and his relationship with his dad. It is a movie more interested in how this game and its hype affects these lives, with WHO these people are. Someone pointed out that it was nothing like “Remember the Titans.” I agree. I guess our opinions simply differ in that I was rejoicing over that fact. There was nothing “glossed over” about “Friday Night Lights,” either in the character depth or the football scenes. There were supporting characters, but they seemed more real; they were certainly more complex, and therefor, more interesting. There was actually subtlety in a film about football and high schoolers! Who knew? And for once, the “inspirational speech” at half time was understated. It is, to be sure, still very unlike the things that are said at half time, but it was closer than in most movies.

So, to me, the first fifteen minutes aren’t even a factor. There is the depiction of partying and high school sexuality, but NOT, I think, endorsement. It is the polar opposite of the treatment in another High School football movie, “Varsity Blues.” There was some language, yes, but not that much. A few “S” words, and scattering other obscenities, but many of them are said in the background; they aren’t focussed on. This is a considerate, smart film about high school football, about high school in general. And THAT is rare. I would highly recommend seeing it.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4½]
—Jason Eaken, age 21
Positive—I thought this was a solid film and I enjoyed it more than Remember the Titans. Agreed with the reviewer and ratings. It does have a lot of close-ups and fast editing so if that isn’t your thing, perhaps it’s better to wait until DVD. I didn’t find it too distracting and thought it helped the “you are there” feel of the film as was intended.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—JJ, age 25
Positive—Previous commenters have panned the first 15 minutes—I urge you to stay the course—the worst part of the movie was the first 15 minutes—after that it gets much, much better. I read the book, I watched the movie, and the movie captures the essence of the book. In the south, especially the deep south (TX, LA, MS, AL), football is king. Football is a religion. And it’s all about winning. Or is it? I’m a huge high school football fan, and did not miss a single game of my alma mater between 1982 and 1993 in Louisiana. SPOILER FOLLOWS. In 1986, my team made a run for the Louisiana State Championship. This film chronicles a similar run in 1988 for the Odessa Permian Panthers. They lose the State Championship Game. (In real life, it was in the semi-final). My team lost, too, in overtime. In many ways, I had already lived this film, and in some ways, I actually saw myself in the film. But the film pointed out one thing—that winning isn’t necessarily the most important thing. Being perfect, giving all that you have, doing your best, and loving one another is. Jesus couldn’t have said it any better than this film did.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
—Carl Fuglein, age 57
Positive—A very well-done sports movie. Of course they take football to seriously, but that’s the way it is for some people. Unlike “Remember the Titans,” this film doesn’t make up storylines and claim it as a true story. The football scenes were the best I have ever seen; the fast cuts captured the frantic nature of the game. The first 15 minutes do contain some unnecessary depictions of teen drinking and sex, but it is not gratuitous. A great film for teens (especially athletes) and their parents.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Josiah Hager, age 20
Positive—I’ve read several allusions to this movie not being of the quality of “Remember the Titans.” On a purely Christian basis, this movie is chock full of objectionable content, but then again, so is life, and any other portrayal of the story would be unrealistic and unfair to the actual events that unfolded. I do not believe it was gratuitous, and I believe that if one has the ability to look beneath the surface, then one would find that this movie has a heart. So I feel it is an insult to even compare the two, Remember the Titans is melodramatic fluff, and Friday Night Lights is a piece that gives you a beautiful and quite often painful view inside of the characters, but only if you’re willing to look. If you’re are a fan of movies, and not film, then perhaps this isn’t for you.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Toby, age 19
Positive—I am a 19 year old girl from GA. I have grew up in the South and I have experienced football in the south first hand. I much say this film is a very accurate portrayal of southern football. We do love it that much. I think personally, everyone is jumping overboard with the whole sex scene stuff. First of all the two scenes in question combined were no more than 2 minutes long, and second there was no actual sex shown, just afterwards, and the other was a scene leading up to it and nothing actually happened. There’s is no nudity or anything like that. I think this is one of the greatest sports films of all time.
My Ratings: [Good/5]
—Holly, age 19
Positive—“Friday Night Lights” is a pretty decent movie, like what others are saying, if you can get past the party scene (sexual content and teen drinking). Because of that and some of the language, I would only give it an average rating.

I don’t know a whole lot in the Bible, but I do know this: From a biblical standpoint: James 3:5-10 says that we should bless and not curse. In The Ten Commandments (not talking about the movie), Exodus 20, it says, “Thou shalt not take thy Lord’s name in vain.” The g-d word, which was used in the film, breaks this commandment.

And the Bible speaks against any kind of sex that is outside of marriage between one man and one woman. And I know that someone in church leadership should not drink (and I heard it also said, “Do not be drunken with wine”). I have had a preconceived idea that it is a sin to drink. Maybe I’m right; maybe I’m wrong. But if that alcoholic drink causes you to sin, then you should not have drank it.

Otherwise, if you can get past the moral objections, it is a good movie. I don’t approve the language, drinking, and sex; and I’d only recommend it for mature teens and adults. The television guardian, I’ve heard, blocks 99% of objectionable material (immoral things like bad language and sex). A PG-13 rating rides the fence. If it was a lot worse than what it was, it would deserve an r rating. The PG-13 rating was appropriate. Morally, I’d give it 7 out of 10 (10 being the absolute best).
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—DJ, age 25 (USA)
Neutral—This movie was not as good as “Miracle” or other sports based movies I have seen. I went because I don’t know too much about football, and this certainly gave me some insight into the sport. I liked the fact that the final two teams said the Lord’s prayer before going into the game. Not a bad movie, but not a particularly good one either.
My Ratings: [Average/3]
Halyna Barannik, age 58

Comments from young people:
Negative—We took our 18 year old son and his girl friend to see this morally offensive drivel and walked out after 15 minutes. The production quality will make you dizzy and the sex and partying will finish you off. Got my money back!
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive/1]
—Bill Rau, age 50
Negative—The first 15 minutes is essentially gratuitous teen age drinking and sex. Little character development. Definitely not “Remember the Titans” quality or content
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/2]
—Ronn, age 45
Negative—My wife and I tried to get our teenage football playing son and our 13 year old daughter to come to this movie with us because we believed it would be a fun family outing. They had other commitments for the night and I’m glad they did. Teenagers do not need to see other naked teenagers in bed having sex which is exactly what this movie shows. Just goes to show you can’t trust a PG-13 rating. This was more like an R rated movie. And the football drama was sub-standard to “Remember the Titans.” Save your money.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/2]
—Drew Lawler, age 46
Negative—I enjoyed the story of the film, but was offended by the profanity, sexual encounters, and partying. I went to the movie excited because I had heard that it was good and the rating was average. However, I left the film disappointed. I would not recommend it to anyone.
My Ratings: [Average/3½]
—Erinn, age 19
Negative—I’ve looked forward to this movie since I heard it was being filmed. I took my wife to see it and was embarrassed by the content. I’m not sure the PG-13 rating is accurate. I felt the language and sex was too much when the subject is football. Other “true story” football films like “Remember The Titans” and “Radio” did a good job telling a story without the trash for filler. I guess it will all depend on your own personal morals. We left after the first half hour… I wish we would have known.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/2]
—Brian Shaff, age 28
Negative—Your wisest possible choice from a biblical, Christian worldview would be to NOT spend a resource that God allowed you on this disgusting film… I took my 14 year old daughter and two friends… The girls were quickly horrified and embarrassed… We left possibly 7-9 minutes into the film… and received no objection from the theatre management to having my money promptly refunded… when I told him the film was not PG-13 but in actuality is an “R.”… Of what benefit to the film was the immoral animalistic sexual groveling and groping???? Clearly conveying to young women that they are just “a piece of meat” for young men… whose goals for life are to “get drunk and get laid”; oh but no big deal…”boys will be boys.”… Do we as Christians want to encourage this mentality??? The Lord’s name was taken in vain… and that pleases Him when??? Yes, I did read that “if you can sit through the first 15 minutes” the film is “good” in the end… Sounds like a big ol’ compromise to me… Come on people—Buck up. be strong and please do not waste God’s money on this filth a.k.a. “film.”
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive/1]
—Tami Eggeling, age 48
Negative—It’s really sad, because if it weren’t for the really bad sexual scenes, this movie might have been one of the better movies I have seen of recent. The message that the coach gives at half time of the final game, is one of the most amazing scenes I can remember. It was way beyond the “amazing” pep talks, even the great ones we’ve come to expect from movies of this type. This one was spiritual, the message of this movie was a powerful one too, and should not be taken lightly. I can’t recommend this movie, I wish I could, but the one scene is totally off color. I hope Hollywood continues to give good messages, but without the extras, so that it can be called a good movie.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/2½]
—Tim Stromer, age 38
Negative—My husband and I had been waiting until our children were not with us so we could watch Friday Night Lights. We had been told by many people that it was a very good movie. As I sat there, through the first 15 minutes, I just kept thinking, “it will get better. This has to be over soon.” Well, it didn’t get better, and my husband and I promptly walked out. We did not ask for our money back but instead went to see a different movie at no charge. I was very disgusted that anyone, especially a fellow Christian, would EVER recommend this move to us, or to anyone else. There is NO REASON to depict those sex and drinking scenes on the screen. Life is full of things that are real, but that doesn’t mean you can’t leave them out of the movie. The original team members probably DID have sex that night, but it didn’t show it because they wanted the movie rated PG-13. Well, it should have been rated “R.” I am certain that this movie could have been made in a family-friendly manner. We as Christians need to stand up and stand against this kind of movie-making.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive/1]
—Shelly Webb, age 32
Negative—Our son had expressed interest in seeing this film. He hadn’t read any reviews, but he was familiar with some of the stars in the movie. My husband and I started to preview “Friday Night Lights” before watching it with our kids. We are so glad we did. We managed to view about 15 minutes before hitting the STOP button. This film is offensive, and the characters were so over the top that we could not truly believe in the story.

Shortly after this film starts, we are introduced to players talking about engaging in sexual intercourse with teenage girls and partying. Also, it was quite obvious to me that the writers were intent on stereotyping Texans as redneck ignoramus neanderthals who have little respect for women and people of color, and that the only thing that matters in their lives is a state football championship.

The blatant sex between the players and high school girls along with the partying are offensive and to the story. The producers are just appealing to base human nature. I come from a family of athletes including myself. In this film, the first day of practice was so unbelievable and implausible that it was a complete distraction from the story. Save your precious time and money. Don’t bother to see this trashy production.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—I. M. Arkin, age over 40 (USA)
Comments from young people
Positive—The best sports movie since Remember The Titans. A must see.
My Ratings: [Excellent!/5]
—Daniel Foltz, age 14
Positive—This movie was very good. I’m a 13 year old student, and this was probably the best age to watch it. I would recommend this for 13 and up due to a minor sex scene in the beginning and the sports action (which is usually bloody). IF there is anyone who would want to see a good football movie like Remember The Titans, but aimed for a slightly older audience, I would recommend Friday Night Lights.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4½]
—Ben Dover, age 13
Neutral—I did not like the first fifteen minutes of this film. The sex should just stay out of films. Otherwise, it is a great football movie, but it is nowhere near “Remember the Titans” or “Angels in the Outfield”
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Patrick, age 13
Positive—I am a thirteen year old girl. My dad won’t let me go see a movie without him reading a bunch of reviews and stuff first. My mom and I went to see “Friday Night Lights” because a friend suggested it to us. Before my mom and I went, I read some of the reviews for the movie. Lots of them said not to go to see it because of the first fifteen minutes of sex scenes and various stuff. It wasn’t as bad as most people have made it out to be, but being a Christian and a homeschool student, it was very objectional. But if you can get past the first fifteen minutes, the rest of the movie is great. It is a very exciting movie in the end. This is my first review and I hope that it is of some help to you.
My Ratings: [Average/3]
—Lisa, age 13
Positive—OK, I will admit that I completely forgot about the first 15 minutes of this movie when I thought about it. Although it doesn’t follow a biblical perspective, it does accurately depict what high school is sometimes like, and certainly does not endorse it. The guys were reluctant to go in the first place, and like someone said earlier, the guy was very shaken up afterwards.

I thought this movie was great. I am not a huge football fan, but I was seeing a movie with my mom, and I loved this one. The pressure on the coach made him push the players to be perfect, which at the end of the movie, he says means “Being able to look your teammate in the eye, and know that you could not have done any more.” In otherwords, he says that to be a perfect football player, you give it your all, and no one can ask any more of you. I enjoyed that he didn’t say that you had to win, or anything like that.

The other thing I liked were the relationships between the players. “Boobie” was injured early season, but stuck with the team the whole way through. Even when he couldn’t be out there with them, he was there with the team, supporting them. The struggles that the other players went through to make up for the loss of the “star player,” and hearing the way the fans of the team talked about the coach really struck my heart.

Overall, I thought this was a great movie. I wouldn’t suggest it for kids younger than teens, and if you don’t mind the first 15 minutes, it is an awesome movie.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4]
—Joe Stevens, age 16
Positive—I thought this movie was REALLY good! Yes, it did have some objectional material, but only in the first 15 minutes. If the other commenter had stayed through the rest of the movie, he would have realized that the rest of the movie has an extremely good message. The acting was extremely good too. I felt as if I knew the characters. The plot was also excellent. I felt all of the emotions the team was feeling—happy when they won, sad when they lost. It made me feel as if I really lived in Odessa, Texas, and supported their team. The message this movie sends is that you shouldn’t have an unhealthy obsession with anything. Football to the people of Odessa, Texas, was an obsession. We saw the good and bad things that came out of this. So overall, I think it was a really good movie, with a good lesson.
My Ratings: [Better than Average/4½]
—Shelly, age 14
Movie Critics
…The best thing about “Friday Night Lights” is… the film’s message, which portrays in no uncertain terms both the seduction and the fleeting nature of football fame…
—Annabelle Robertson, Crosswalk
…bears something you rarely experience in a football movie. “Friday Night Lights” has a soul…
—Boston Globe
…There isn’t a bad performance here… beautifully executed film…
—Allison Benedikt, Chicago Tribune
…If you’re not a football fan, you’ll be surprised—and thrilled—by how completely this film engages you…
—Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
…The movie’s source, a book by Buzz Bissinger, was a fairly damning indictment of this obsession… in Odessa… where losing is considered a sin…
—Lou Lumenick, New York Post
…It’s not always up, but it’s good… Solid, largely sober portrait of a small Texas town’s obsession with high-school football…
—L.A. Daily News, David Kronke
…The movie works because Berg never forgets to keep his heart in the game and not just his head…
—Robert Wilonsky, Dallas Observer
…While Coach Gaines’ halftime speech preaches honesty, integrity, joy and community, it remains to be seen which ideals will stick with audiences…
—Bob Smithouser, Plugged In