Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000 to 2009.
It’s not really a sports movie without one — the locker-room speech with a big metaphor, complete with close-ups, pregnant pauses and rousing yells. But what of the project that takes on that motivational-speech idea for how it works as a film?
“Be perfect” was the rallying cry in 2004’s Friday Night Lights, and while it wasn’t perfect in a traditional sense, it was in the way that the movie defines it — confidence in doing the best you can no matter what the scoreboard says.
For practical narrative purposes, director Peter Berg’s adaptation of his cousin H.G. “Buzz” Bissinger’s book about Texas high-school football only chronicles three players, a coach and a parent. That’s far fewer characters than the superior Berg-supervised TV version, but any film of reasonable length couldn’t possibly tell every player’s story.
Berg’s perfect pacing in this tremendously entertaining character-driven sports movie equally measures out gridiron adrenaline fixes and emotional reflections.
Tobias Schliessler’s claustrophobic documentary-style cinematography burrows into the huddle and the hearts of the players. Each play is filled with the equally exciting and heartbreaking feeling of how fate could turn on the players at any moment.
As the coach, Billy Bob Thornton’s work is largely reactionary — as much a guidance counselor and a parent. When he does get riled, his fury bears the same bite as R. Lee Ermey from Full Metal Jacket. His “be perfect” speech no doubt seared itself on high-school athletes’ brains everywhere, and it puts the film over the top.