“Under the Stadium Lights” is honest and well-intentioned, but its tribute to a Texas high school football team that won the state title in 2009 is so sure of its own tale that it fails to reach out to a wider audience.
Under the Stadium Lights
The movie is based on the book Brother’s Keeper, which was authored by Al Pickett and Chad Mitchell, a cop, preacher, and team chaplain. “Under the Stadium Lights” highlights Mitchell’s efforts to motivate and assist the team, particularly three exceptional players with difficult home lives. The writing deserves credit for avoiding the typical underdog movie scenes, with only a few training montages and locker room pep talks. Unfortunately, the scenes that replace them never connect with anyone who isn’t already invested in the tale.
Holy Trinity: Faith, faith, and football
Mitchell (Milo Gibson) assures the crew that the Holy Trinity is everything. He doesn’t mean the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit when he says that. But rather the three Fs: faith, family, and football. He tells them that they are their brother’s keeper. He instructs them to shout #brokeep and use it as a hashtag. Mitchell later recounts that he was complaining about the news on TV. This is when he realizes he wants to do more than a complaint; he needed to take action.
Being each other’s keeper consists mostly of sessions during which the players “discuss subjects you can’t talk about at home”. They listen attentively to each other’s most heartbreaking stories and convey compassion and solidarity. However, despite their talk of unity and being “something more than ourselves,” we have yet to see the brotherhood manifest itself in any specific deeds on or off the field.
And the F for family is a hard one, as the central characters cope with a drug-addicted father, a mother in prison, and a gang-affiliated sibling. When your family is in jeopardy, what does it mean to put family first? What value does football have for these teenagers? Mitchell’s wife asks if they can ever have a time together without someone phoning him because of his commitment to the police force, the team, and an adult gang member who wishes to leave that life behind. “If Dad is guarding the city, who is protecting us?” his small daughter wonders.
Under the Stadium Lights Review Continues
In the film adaptation of “Friday Night Lights,” a single scene of a well-kept football field next to a run-down high school spoke it all about the importance of high school football in communities like Abilene. This is something that “Under the Stadium Lights” takes for granted and expects us to do as well. It’s almost as though he’s preaching to the choir. The idea that a public high school football team would have a chaplain and that everyone would kneel in prayer together before a game is never questioned in the video. It also never asks why all of the disturbed characters are Black or Latino. However, the ones who guide and assist them are all white.
The writing is clumsy, and the acting is uneven, so the tone is preachy rather than tragic. Laurence Fishburne plays the operator of the local barbecue shop. He gives a vivid and appealing performance that only serves to highlight the other performers’ flaws.
The film’s other merits are its photography and editing, and the football game scenes have sharp, energetic energy. However, they would be more effective if they were more centered on the storyline. They could also be illustrated how the chaplain’s advice was linked to specific techniques.
There are numerous excellent films about high school football teams, many of which are based on true events. With intelligent, fascinating analyses of subjects such as the demands placed on young men and the obstacles of greatness and teamwork, they set a high bar. “Under the Stadium Lights” attempts hard to fit in with those flicks, but it never quite makes it.