Any Given Sunday (Oliver Stone, 1999)
[originally posted 27Dec1999]
Forget the well-written script, forget the acting, forget Oliver Stone’s best direction work in years, forget an almost-perfect ensemble cast, forget gorgeous (if overdone) cinematography, forget perfect sound. Well, don’t forget it, I guess, because we’ll come back to it, but put it in the back of your head for a while. The true star of Any Given Sunday is the incredible choreography. A good deal of this movie takes place on the gridiron itself as twenty-two men pound each other into submission every Sunday. Bones strain and crack, blood flows, muscles and ligaments tear, and it’s all captured oh so lovingly on film. It’s difficult to watch for a non-football fan like myself (don’t know any football fans who have seen it yet, so can’t comment), but even while flinching at the sound of a body hitting the ground after being battered by two even bigger bodies in midair, it’s still visually stunning. Just the football scenes alone would be enough to lift this movie to above-average status.
That said, Any Given Sunday just plain rocks. It’s the story of a whole lot of seemingly morally bankrupt people whose lives have been negatively affected by football. Coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) has been with the Miami Sharks since their beginnings, and quarterback Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid) has been there with him for well over half the team’s existence. But Rooney is thirty-eight, well beyond the normal end of career for a football quarterback, and as should be expected, he goes down one too many times and screws something up in his chest. String 2 QB goes down after one play with a knee injury. That leaves D’Amato’s third and last hope, a benchwarmer named Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx). Beamen ignores the playbook, calls his own plays, and turns the team around. Of course, in favoring one receiver and trash-talking (deservedly, it should be noted) the team’s defensive line, he makes a whole lot of enemies inside the club, with the expected results. Add to this shortlist the team founder’s widow (Ann-Margaret), an alcoholic whose sole desire is to get away form the game, and daughter (Cameron Diaz), the team’s present GM, who also wants to get away from the game, but with as much money as she can get for selling the team.
Despite the fact that every one of these folks gives an excellent performance (save the woefully miscast Diaz, who does the best she can with her role), the one person in this film who truly shines in the role of “person whose personality has been completely warped by football” is Cap Rooney’s trophy wife, Cindy (Lauren Holly). The woman is a flaming, gold-plated, iron-balled, moneygrubbing psycho bitch from hell, and Holly plays the role to the hilt. This leads me to believe that switching Diaz and Holly would have been in the best interests of the film; Holly would have made a great shady GM. But you play with what you got.
Another person to single out is Jamie Foxx, who’s always been relegated to minor comedic roles before this. Stone threw him in with the big boys here, and many of them (Pacino, Quaid, James Woods and Matt Modine as the team’s orthopedists, etc.). Foxx holds his own. It’s not an Oscar-caliber performance, but Foxx shows he’s more than capable of playing a dramatic role and playing it well. Hopefully this will be the breakout role for Foxx. He’s helped by a minor cast and a bunch of football-related cameos who obviously love being here. None of them looked familiar to me, save James Brown (yes, the guy from The World’s Funniest) as the defensive coach for the Sharks and football great Lawrence “L.T.” Taylor as a rival coach who spends more time taunting Pacino than he does coaching his own team.
As for Stone, what’s he doing here? Maybe he finally realized what the rest of the world did, that he went way off the deep end after Platoon. If this is his attempt at atonement, he bought himself a few centuries’ worth of indulgence. The politics here are the politics of teamwork, aside from a minor subplot with Cameron Diaz soaking Miami’s mayor for money for a new stadium. There are no ludicrous conspiracies, no embittered war veterans, no high-profile politicians to be ridiculed, only a bunch of people who have been pushed to the limit by a sport. It’s The Godfather without the Mafia, and Stone handles it as capably as he’s handled anything. The style is the same– lots of darkness, gloom, and somewhat glorified violence– but it’s nice to see it applied to something nonpolitical for the first time since his highly-underrated horror classic The Hand.
So having praised it to the high heavens, what’s wrong with the movie? Why isn’t it the greatest film of all time? A few minor things, mostly. I’ve already mentioned Diaz. And some of the cinematography– if you cut out all of the slow-motion long bomb passes except for the first one, the movie might have been fifteen minutes shorter (and it runs well over two and a half hours). The soundtrack, while oddly effective, gets annoying after a while; you hear a lot of songs, and it’s a great mix of stuff spanning the sixties to Kid Rock’s most recent single, but you never hear more than a few seconds of any song. Even the now-banned “Rock and Roll Part Two” gets a few bars early on.
Excellent filmmaking, especially when held up against the last seventeen years of Oliver Stone’s career. ****