Our review of Any Given Sunday (Blu-Ray), published February 5th, 2009, is also available.
Life is a contact sport.
Oliver Stone, king of the way-out-there school of filmmaking, turns his warped eye to the distasteful state of affairs in modern, TV addicted professional football. Strangely enough, with Any Given Sunday he creates a film with energy and frenetic passion that captures an entertaining and disturbing reality without letting his paranoid politics get in the way.
Facts of the Case
The Miami Sharks are on a losing streak when their long-time star quarterback, Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid) is knocked out by a spinal injury. When his backup is injured on the next play, twenty-year coach (and league championship winner) Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino) has to use unknown third-string QB Willie Beaman (Jamie Foxx). As the new quarterback gains confidence and begins to win, he begins to adopt a heavily hedonistic lifestyle and a selfish attitude on and off the field.
Meanwhile, Cap Rooney struggles to recover from his injury and the hard-nosed team owner, Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) pressures D'Amato to keep Cap on the bench and use Beaman as the future of the Sharks. Fiercely loyal to Cap, D'Amato reciprocates the animosity, even more so when Christina orders him to change his style of coaching. D'Amato must also deal with players who are motivated by their incentive laded contracts in ways injurious to themselves or the team.
As the team struggles into the playoffs, the pressures among the players, coaching staff, and ownership intensifies. If the team is to succeed, then attitudes must be changed, and courage must be found to face unwelcome truths. In the game of football, as in life, success is a matter of inches, and inches are all around you.
Whether it is Oliver Stone (Platoon, The Doors, Natural Born Killers) and his politics, or merely his films, I have never been much of a fan. Having said that, he has always had a good ear for dialogue and an eye for visual details so that his films are never boring or bland. Any Given Sunday is no exception to this rule, especially if you are a moderate to hard core football fan. NFL Films can do a wonderful job filming real NFL games, but as remarked in the making-of "documentary," they can't put the camera literally into the center of the combat for a perspective only a player can describe.
Though I certainly cannot speak from direct experience, I was impressed by the completely realistic football environment during the games. From the fans to the announcers to the players, everyone seemed to move, speak, and act as we might expect them to do. Though as I note below the gladiator shtick gets done to death, during the middle of the plays the astonishing physicality and crushing impact of giant upon giant does have a combat-like feel. Having said that, when Oliver Stone shows up in a cameo as a football announcer, it just doesn't quite feel right. Try again, Ollie!
Only a few members of this enormous cast get a chance to shine. Al Pacino (The Insider, Heat, Serpico) was made for this role, which plays to his immense strength in portraying driven, intense men and lets him chew every bit of scenery up, down, across, and all around. Cameron Diaz (Charlie's Angels, Being John Malkovitch, There's Something About Mary) has the right attitude for a new-era, Daniel Snyder-style owner, but she needs to learn to scream with more convincing authority. Jamie Foxx (Bait, Booty Call, "In Living Color") shows that he does have some acting abilities. I just hope he was taking notes during his scenes with Al.
Dennis Quaid (Traffic, Dragonheart, Innerspace) fits in well as an aging, Joe Montana type of QB, who must confront the difficult question of ending his career. I also liked the understated, nice guy acting of Matthew Modine (Short Cuts, Memphis Belle, Full Metal Jacket), as contrasted against the perfect sleaziness of James Woods (Contact, Nixon, Diggstown). Much of the rest of the name actors don't get too much room to stretch, or otherwise standout from the pack. LL Cool J, Lauren Holly, Ann-Margaret, Charlton Heston (in no more than a cameo), are welcome, but more or less wasted. Surprisingly, two real-life football players, Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor, fit in very well indeed.
The anamorphic video transfer gets very high marks. The blades of grass, fine clouds of dust, every crease and bead of sweat on Al Pacino's face, all are presented with clarity and well saturated colors. Sharpness could be a hair better, but there were very few flaws or bits of dirt, only minor instances of digital artifacts (such as "razoring" in the buildings of the Miami skyline), and a mere touch of film grain. Every modern film should look at least this good!
The Dolby Digital mix is on par with the video quality. During the games and party sequences, the rear surrounds kick in with truly impressive atmospheric and support. Crowds cheering, split-surround air-horns, and the like really do get you into the game. The front soundstage is wide and deep, milking quite a lot out of the on-screen action, which is complimented by the subwoofer thump for the bone-shattering hits and the high octane soundtrack. It's not quite the full-system workout that an action movie might give you, but in its own right, Any Given Sunday still has impressive sonics.
Extra content is light. The Cast & Crew section is merely a list of filmographies for some actors and the director, the content and quality of the theatrical trailer (in the proper aspect ratio) is very good, and the video "Shut 'em Down" by LL Cool J is okay. The main extra is a twenty seven minute making-of "documentary" which is about fifteen minutes of information and twelve of PR fluff (including far too much effusive praise of Oliver Stone. He's good, but let's be realistic about his talents, okay?). Overall, a bit disappointing. There is some DVD-ROM content that could not be reviewed (web events, chat-room access, and web-site links, a movie review "scoreboard,"), but aside from some sampler trailers, the list does not look very impressive.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Oliver certainly brought his full back of camera tricks to Any Given Sunday, and I wish he had left a few unused. There were times where the jumpy melange of snaps, swoops, and cuts (and some other cute camera tricks) was not only disorienting, but downright distracting. If his aim was to break up his crisply moving film by wrenching the viewer right out of the film, he succeeded.
Furthermore, the parallels between modern football players and the gladiators of old are made with all the subtlety of dynamite. Not content to let the point be made quietly, the point gets explicitly hammered home in direct dialogue and needlessly reinforced with a scene from Ben-Hur playing in the background of one scene. Yes, Oliver, I get your point. (pat, pat) Now go away and try not to let the police find your stash the next time you're stopped.
Perhaps related to the gladiator aspect, Oliver goes way too far with the violence when (somehow) a certain part of a player's anatomy (no, that's not a hint) is actually ripped from him and left on the turf. Now, I am well aware that injuries happen on the field (sometimes very freaky or terrible ones), but this one just had me muttering in disbelief. I think the moral of this film is that Oliver needs to have someone stand over his shoulder and slap him when he takes a good idea too far. Sometimes less is more.
One last point. Whoever came up with the color schemes and logos for the fictional league (aside from the Sharks) needs to get a new day job. Cheezy logos and some horrible color combinations took away some of the realistic feel that Any Given Sunday tried so hard to achieve. Ewww! Ick! Try again!
Amongst the football movies in existence, Any Given Sunday stands out as the most intense and explosive member of the bunch. If you like your rock & roll (and rap) loud, your beer cold, and your football smash-mouth, then save this for the long football-less season, and invite the guys over for a worthy dose of football cinema. A must-rent for football guys, and a good choice to purchase ($24.98 list). However, be advised that Warner has a Special Edition in the works, so caveat emptor.
Any Given Sunday does for NFL football what Slapshot did for minor league hockey. Case dismissed!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Full Contact making-of documentary
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