Warner Bros. // 1999 // 157 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // February 5th, 2009
Play or be played.
Are you ready for some football...in high definition?
Professional football team the Miami Sharks (the NFL declined to participate in Stone's film) is on the skids. A four-game losing streak is capped off by the loss of star quarterback Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid, Wyatt Earp) to injury. Third stringer Willie Beaman (Jamie Foxx, Ray) steps in to take the snaps and proves that he's a rising star. He almost single-handedly lifts the team out of its funk and puts it on the road to the playoffs. Meanwhile, veteran coach Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon) clashes with team owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz, Being John Malkovich) over the direction of the team. Tony plays for the love of the game, while Christina views football as show biz.
There's something about sports that loves a tired cliché. Check out any postgame press conference in any sport and you'll hear a steady stream of trite pabulum spewing from the mouths of players and coaches alike, from "we brought our A-game" to "it was a war out there." So how does one make a sports movie that avoids boilerplate sports aphorisms and predictable scenarios both on and off the field? Faced with this question, director Oliver Stone chose not to avoid such pitfalls at all. Instead, he constructs a tapestry of cliché so dense and multi-layered that it makes a fair facsimile of reality (after all, as the late, great David Foster Wallace noted, beneath their lame and unexciting surfaces, many clichés express great and terrible truths). Any Given Sunday boldly takes on most of the major tropes that have defined sports cinema through the decades: the deleterious effect of the advertising age on the pure joy of playing a game as well as it can be played; the crass antics of spoiled and ignorant young millionaire players with no respect for their game's history; the melancholy of older players breaking down physically and ossified coaches longing for the (probably fictional) days of old when the sport was pure and uncorrupted; team doctors recklessly administering painkillers and other drugs to players treated more like business assets than human beings; the glass ceiling that long kept blacks out of quarterback and coaching positions; machismo run amuck; ego clashes; sexual peccadilloes; and divorce and broken families. Rather than being a disorganized mess, Any Given Sunday is one of the most interesting and compelling sports flicks ever made, even if it isn't entirely successful.
The movie's biggest problem is that its third act crumbles under the weight of its own genre demands. The requisite big game set piece is loaded with all manner of sports movie conventions from questions about whether the wise veteran or the young upstart will take the starting QB slot, to worries about Coach D'Amato having the balls to take the sorts of risks necessary to win big games, to much drama over whether "Shark" Lavay will survive the career-ending hit that we all know is coming long before the pre-kickoff coin toss. The big last-second play (all sports movies must have a big last-second play) is executed with a maximum of slow motion, super-impositions, and ultra-dramatic synthesizer pedal tones. Stone lays the clichés on so thick, and resolves them all so conventionally, that the final 30 minutes of the movie often feel like parody.
Any Given Sunday also suffers from Stone's tendency to reinforce his themes with condescendingly heavy-handed visuals. As Judge Norman Short noted in his review of the 2000 DVD release, a scene that crosscuts between Pacino and Foxx's intense conversation about the philosophy of football and Ben Hur's famed chariot race playing on a nearby television comes off like a demonstration of Stone's contempt for an audience he believes too stupid to pick up on his many comparisons throughout the film of football players to Roman gladiators. Add to that atrocities like a sequence that punctuates Pacino's contemplation of the familial cost of his devotion to football with the superimposition of a close-up of a pigskin right next to the actor's mopey noggin and Any Given Sunday is rife with moments of unintentional hilarity. These ponderous excesses are particularly disappointing because when Stone uses his visual prowess to assist his actors rather than his themes, the movie works and works incredibly well.
Thankfully, performances are excellent across the board. Pacino nails it as a gruff, aging coach having difficulty finding his place in the new, media-savvy era of professional football (though his build and style of dress are more reminiscent of an NBA coach than NFL). Jamie Foxx is pitch-perfect in his dramatic debut as a young, black quarterback who goes from struggling with his confidence to superstardom and a massive chip on his shoulder almost overnight. Cameron Diaz is surprisingly forceful as an owner/GM struggling to be taken seriously as she steps into the shoes of her Vince Lombardi-like deceased father. Though under-utilized, Dennis Quaid expertly walks the fine line between resolute and downtrodden as a Joe Montana-esque QB on the cusp of retirement. Smaller roles are capably filled by the likes of James Woods, Matthew Modine, Aaron Eckhart, Lauren Holly, Ann-Margret, and John C. McGinley. Rapper LL Cool J is spot-on as a wide receiver with an outsized ego. Even football greats Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor acquit themselves well in two small but significant roles, while Dick Butkus, Johnny Unitas, and Terrell Owens add texture in cameo appearances. Stone bolsters the fine performances with a visual design that mixes grit with visual poetry: handheld cameras give the flick an appropriately rough-around-the-edges feel as we follow coaches and players through locker room tunnels and find ourselves in the middle of bone-crunching action, while shots like silhouetted players competing in the rain have a glossy, formal beauty. Any Given Sunday may a sum lesser its parts, but many of those parts are visually stunning and thoroughly entertaining.
Warner Bros.' Blu-ray release of Any Given Sunday offers up the director's cut of the film, which runs six minutes longer than the theatrical version. The 1080p VC-1 transfer improves upon the already impressive image on the previously released two-disc DVD. Depth and detail are noticeably superior, while colors pop more. The transfer is close to pristine. The Dolby TrueHD audio mix delivers clean dialogue, plenty of crunch during game sequences, and a realistic ambient space that makes fine use of the rear soundstage even if it isn't particularly showy.
The disc includes a hefty stable of extras, all of which are ported from the two-disc special edition DVD, all presented in 480p. There are two audio commentaries -- one by Stone, the other by Jamie Foxx. Stone is dry but informative, while Foxx is entertaining but plagued by long gaps of silence.
Full Contact: The Making of Any Given Sunday (27:07) is an electronic press kit-style making-of documentary produced by HBO. After Stone's informative commentary, the featurette doesn't offer any insights you won't have already heard.
Jamie Foxx Audition Tape and Screen Tests provides raw video of Foxx showing off his football skills, as well as two screen tests that prove he can pull off dramatic acting (at this point in his career, Foxx was known primarily for his antics on the sketch comedy show, In Living Color). The three reels (which can be strung together with a Play All feature) run about six minutes.
There are also 14 deleted scenes (most of them brief), a gag reel, and montages of football outtakes and establishing shots of football stadiums filled with fans. A music-only audio option allows you to watch the movie alongside tunes by Smoky Robinson, Moby, Jamie Foxx, Robbie Robertson, and others. An "Instant Replay" option provides you with direct action to the movie's gameplay sequences. Two stills galleries house poster art and production photographs. There are music videos for "Shut 'Em Down" by LL Cool J, and "My Name Is Willie" and "Any Given Sunday" by Jamie Foxx. Finally, the film's theatrical trailer is archived on the disc.
Any Given Sunday entertains even if it doesn't transcend the trappings of its genre and the excesses of its director.
Review content copyright © 2009 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (German)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Italian)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 157 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Music-Only Track
* Deleted/Extended Scenes
* Screen Tests
* Music Videos
* Gag Reel
* Theatrical Trailer