Any Given Sunday
Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday is like examining a patchwork of his
previous films sewn onto a rug of green astroturf. The tough, profane, often
bickering zoo of coaches, players, teams owners, and journalists that inhabit
the film’s world of professional football could almost be Platoon’s group of hardened Vietnam War veterans. The combination
of slow motion, flying footballs backed up by slamming rap and heavy metal riffs
takes on a hallucinatory quality not far removed from The
Doors. Meanwhile, the exhausting, herky-jerky style of deliberately
rough-edged camerawork brings to mind Stone’s jailbreak sequence from Natural
Born Killers. But this time around, there’s an added ingredient. After two
hours of shoving our noses into the most unsavory portrayal of professional
sports ever filmed, Stone actually conjures up some faith and optimism. Any
Given Sunday might well be the first Oliver Stone film to boast a happy
film tells a familiar story, but throws in enough chutzpah and twists to give it
a flavor apart from similar football-themed films like The Longest Yard, North Dallas
Forty, and Semi-Tough. Al Pacino
plays Tony D’Amato, an intense coach for the fictional Miami Sharks, a team
smarting from several losses during their run for the NFL playoffs. Like Scarface’s
Tony Montana shrieking at his underworld adversaries, Pacino’s coach spars
with players and team management with his trademark bulging eyes and mad-dog
bark. But in the contemporary, dog-eat-dog world of Any
Given Sunday, Pacino’s fifties-something coach finds himself at odds with
the demanding young team owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), and a new
school of players more concerned with flashy self-promotion and quick dollars
than consistent teamwork. Stone seems to be saying that even “Scarface Al”
in full freakout mode is no match for the heartless bastion of yuppiedom at the
helm of professional football.
third-string quarterback Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx) is unsuspectingly called
onto the field to strut his stuff, the newbie proves that he might be an heir to
the position’s throne, currently taken up by veteran Jack “Cap” Rooney
(Dennis Quaid). Beamen has talent, but D’Amato senses that the green
upstart’s poor listening skills and Dennis Rodman-style showmanship are at
odds with the long-term rewards of a cohesive team approach. But Beamen wins
games, and that’s enough for Pagniacci to pressure the coach to phase Rooney
out and let the popular newcomer take over.
Any Given Sunday bathes in this unholy
stew of mostly unsympathetic characters. Beamen revels in his new celebrity
status, making a sleazy rap video and dumping his small-town girlfriend for the
temptations of the big time. But his arrogance comes with a price: after he’s
heard dissing his defense team, the players reward the gesture by sawing his car
in half at a raucous party. Long since estranged from his wife and children,
Pacino’s lonely coach frequents Miami barstools and the pads of high-priced
hookers, frightened at the prospect of growing old and obsolete. John C.
McGinley plays a bottom-feeding, Geraldo Rivera-style sportswriter who uses a
low-key scuffle with D’Amato to high-profile effect after catching it
on-camera. These characters are spliced between plentiful scenes of seedy
locker-room antics, as when a hell-raising Sharks player throws an alligator
into a player-inhabited shower stall.
however, Stone focuses on the more positive dynamics that develop between Pacino
and Foxx. The former perceives football, and life, as “games of inches”, to
be won over the long haul through perseverance. And by the time the film’s
final, crucial game wraps up, it would seems as though the teacher’s advice
has worn off on his wisened, pigskin-tossing pupil. Any Given Sunday’s wrap-up isn’t original, but it’s well
earned. The film-closing game’s suspense is generated by our clear-eyed
perspective on what the outcome means to this well-drawn canvas of characters.
strength isn’t in its weary story: it’s in the attention that Stone lavishes
on the details. There’s one telling scene where players stage a “music
war” in the locker room. The black players blast rap, while the white
teammates favor metal riffs. When a rap fan challenges the latter group, asking,
“Why do you guys play that hard rock crap?” the response sounds authentic.
“Metallica rules! Hetfield is God!” These studied rituals and mannerisms
make the film interesting to watch.
acting is also first-rate. While Pacino, Quaid, and Foxx do reliably solid work,
Diaz is a wonder to behold. There’s absolutely no sign of There’s
Something About Mary sweetness in her convincing portrayal of a cold-blooded
heiress. Pagniacci is willing to conspire with the team physician (James Woods
in super-slimy mode) to falsify medical information, if that’s what it takes
to keep popular players on the field, including ailing linebacker Luther
“Shark” Lavay (played by real-life NFL great Lawrence Taylor).
Stone is equally unsympathetic to the other female characters populating Any
Given Sunday. Lauren Holly plays Rooney’s controlling wife as an
unsympathetic superbitch who humiliates her insecure husband as he considers
retirement. Elizabeth Berkley is a high-priced hooker who seduces Pacino’s
lonely coach: her sole purpose in this movie is to flaunt her body and maximize
the jiggle factor. Ann-Margret’s underwritten role is that of Pagniacci’s
martini guzzling mother.
Drenched in pulsating rock music and laced with the angry, profane words and mood that mark all of Stone’s work, Any Given Sunday nevertheless emerges as a tribute to the wisdom of “old-school” coaches and players. Maybe Stone sees the other side of the coin, now that he’s past middle age and feeling mortality breathing down his back. After the pulverizing roar of Natural Born Killers and U-Turn, Any Given Sunday gives us a kinder, gentler Stone. But count him out for the next Lassie remake.