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Release: 1999, Warner Bros.
Starring: Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, Ann-Margret, Bill Bellamy, Elizabeth Berkley, Clifton Davis, Lauren Holly, John C. McGinley, Matthew Modine, Lela Rochon, Lawrence Taylor
Director: Oliver Stone
MPAA Rating: [R] language, violence, nudity, sexuality
Runtime: 162 minutes
Life is a contact sport...
A look at the game and politics of football through the experiences of the Miami Sharks, their coach (Pacino), and their owner (Diaz).
Strong performances from a solid ensemble cast, weakened by director Oliver Stone's typical heavy-handed BS.
Far and away, the most outstanding thing about Any Given Sunday is that there is not a single weak performance in the entire bunch. Given that there's so many varied characters and stories going on within this movie's three hour tour, you'd think someone would suck relative to his or her peers. Surprisingly, such was not the case. Even Dennis Quaid was good, in spite of the fact that he has usually proven to be the kiss of death for a movie's acclaim and success.
Any Given Sunday follows the exploits of the Miami Sharks and their aging coach to give the viewer a look at the battles fought for the game of football. One of the major storylines is the loss of youth and the wasting of life, most evident in the characters played by Pacino and Quaid. Pacino is coach Tony D'Amato, a lonely, broke, divorced man who realizes he's getting too old to be in the game anymore, and who has sacrificed too much by neglecting his wife and children. Quaid is Cap Rooney, the team's long in the tooth star quarterback whose gold-digging wife is pressuring him to stay in the game. His memory and body are failing him, and younger, hotter players are quickly rising the ranks to make him obsolete.
Among those rising stars is Willie Beaman, played by Jamie Foxx. A young, hotshot quarterback, he's got the moves that score the points for the team, but he's arrogant and green. And as his ego grows, he naively believes that he is the team. Other members of the Sharks include a player who's all about showboating and merchandising, played by LL Cool J, and a giant of a lineman who is aggravating a dangerous medical condition and risking certain death to play the game and get his million dollar bonus. James Woods plays his typical role of Fast Talking Asshole, but he does it well as the team's doctor whose oath is more hypocritic than Hippocratic.
The biggest stretch in character comes with Cameron Diaz, the owner of the Sharks who inherited the team and her business of football from her father. For someone who has made a career of playing the saucy vixen (The Mask) or the sweet girl-next-door (There's Something About Mary), she is extraordinarily capable in this complete 180 role. She's believable and even intimidating as a cutthroat, ballbusting businesswoman, and her yelling is on par with Pacino's. It's a credit to her that she doesn't get drowned out by him in the scenes where they are arguing with one other. My favorite line of the movie: Diaz booming, "Why do you think my father put me in charge, ya bullheaded moron?"
The fickleness of any celebrity business is also a major theme in this movie. The old is tossed aside for the new, money supersedes loyalty. Just about everyone in this movie is phony. The public changes their opinion of the Sharks just after they reverse their losing streak, and sports reporters are depicted as idiotic media hounds who can do nothing but criticize and complain (i.e. movie critics).
The best scenes come when people are yelling at each other. There's some great speeches, and tons of combative dialogue: Pacino yelling at Diaz, Pacino yelling at Fox, Fox yelling at LL Cool J.
The concept that "the game means everything" is very similar to the recent Kevin Costner baseball flick For Love of the Game. However, the major difference (and one of the improvements) is how Any Given Sunday takes a darker approach to its game of choice: it's more nihilistic and gritty. An opening scene that finds Dennis Quaid's back nearly broken is painful just to watch.
The gridiron action is shot tight and fast, full of close-up, in-your-face violence fueled by a vicious soundtrack. Personally, I think more people would watch football on television if they were guaranteed the non-stop destruction depicted in this film.
Most of the time, when a director has a style distinct enough to be recognized just by seeing his work, it's a good thing. In the case of Oliver Stone, it's a very, very, very bad thing. Like JFK, Any Given Sunday is absolutely riddled with obnoxious advertising billboards that point out the symbolism at every turn. Yes, we understand the football field is the metaphoric battlefield for the modern day warrior. The lion growling emanating from the players' helmets and the way the players move onto the field like soldiers is quite enough, thank you--we don't need gladiator footage and flashbacks actually spliced into the film. And yes, we realize the temptations of fame in this movie. We don't need to be constantly bludgeoned over the head with it with artsy shots of things like the midriff of a high priced hooker in a sequined gown.
And for the love of God, could we hold the camera on one thing for more than two seconds? The camera is shakier than in The Blair Witch Project, and the constant cuts are worse than a half-ass MTV music video. Don't make the mistake of sitting close to the screen when you see this movie, as you'll be dizzied and nauseated in the name of art.
Finally, there's the unbelievably happy ever after feeling of this movie. There were about a million things that could have gone wrong, but absolutely everything works out in the end. Very Hollywood. If we're going to go for canned endings, I'd rather err on the side of depression as in Titanic or Bicentennial Man. The last ten minutes are so fuzzy and feel-good that you'll think this is a Disney movie.
And did anyone catch that long, sustained shot of Willie Beaman's initials at the end of the movie? The big old "WB" letters staring at you in the face? Maybe I'm being paranoid, but that looked like a cheezy plug for Warner Brothers, the studio that released this film.
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