In a swamp of based-on-a-true-story sports films, Peter Berg's gritty adaptation of Pulitzer prize-winner H.G. Bissinger's book stands out by virtue of its impressive visual style and the filmmakers' decision not to massage the facts into cliched conflicts with neat, feel-good resolutions that produce the proper sense of uplift. Odessa, West Texas, 1988: High school football isn't just a big thing, it's the only thing. Businesses shut down on Friday nights so store owners can join the crowd of 20,000 other residents at the stadium where the Permian Panthers play beneath lights that can be seen for miles around. The young teenagers lucky enough to make the demanding cut are lauded as local heroes, but in return the community expects nothing less than perfection from the boys, whose team has gone to many a state championship in the 5A division. No one feels the pressure more than coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton), who's on the receiving end of a constant stream of advice and insults. On the first day of practice, reporters are already hounding stand-out senior running back James "Boobie" Miles (Derek Luke). Raised by his uncle L.V.(Grover Coulson), Boobie's remarkable performance has already earned him a raft of scholarship offers, and he's lapping up the attention like a cat with a bowl of cream. His teammates include shy quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black), whose sickly mother (Connie Cooper) grills him constantly about plays and positions; Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund), whose emotionally abusive father (Tim McGraw), a former Panther state champ, worries that Don's poor performance will tarnish his reputation; studious tight end Brian Chavez (Jay Hernandez); closemouthed linebacker Ivory Christian (newcomer Lee Jackson); and third-string running back Chris Comer (Lee Thompson Young). Collectively dubbed "The MOJO," the team is united spiritually and physically by their will to win. Then Boobie suffers a devastating injury during their first game, leaving the others struggling to maintain their winning reputation without their star. Director Berg uses a smart blend of constantly moving camera and gritty film stock to give the film a documentary feel that's both engaging and perfectly suited to this story. Thornton is impeccably cast as the tough but understanding coach who may lose his temper on the field, but refrains from getting excessively preachy during his locker-room speeches. Luke shines in his role, as do the rest of the well-rounded team players.