Football, as Bill Shankly once remarked, is not a matter of life and death; it's more important than that. And football - the American kind - is no less vital to the heroes of Friday Night Lights, upon whose padded shoulders ride the dreams of their entire Texan town. Peter Berg's drama aims at documentary realism in its dissection of this curious Stateside obsession. But its script is pure corn, drenched in syrupy sentiment and topped with prize ham in the shape of Billy Bob Thornton's tub-thumping coach.
Based on the non-fiction bestseller by HG Bissinger, Lights charts a season in the life of one high-school football team - the Permian Panthers of Odessa, West Texas - and their embattled coach, Gary Gaines (Thornton). For the people of this small dustbowl backwater, nothing but victory will do in the annual State Championships. And as the coach deals with an injury to his running back, racial conflicts, and the constant threat of unemployment, the pressure begins to tell on his youthful, inexperienced squad.
"BUYS INTO LOCKER-ROOM TRIUMPHALISM"
"We are in the business of winning!" yells Gaines to his players after one particularly agonising defeat. Yet rather than question America's obsession with fleeting glory, Berg buys into the locker-room triumphalism he peddles to his charges. Although the latter have various soap-opera headaches (a sick mom here, a pushy dad there) there's not a scrap of personality between them. All that's left are the interminable sequences of bewildering on-field action, full of bone-crushing tackles, slo-mo touchdowns and rules that make even less sense than cricket.