Now that we’re firmly in football season, let’s revisit one of those sportsball movies which is always running when you turn the TV box on: Oliver Stone’s epic (and I do mean EPIC) look at gridiron gladiators, Any Given Sunday.
If you’ve never seen it, I understand. It’s almost three hours long, and that is more time than most can dedicate to a film (yet strangely shorter than most actual football games). But it’s so crammed with drama, subplots and cinematic sportsball moments it is worth your time.
Just look at that trailer and you get a feel for how serious Stone took his subject matter. The story is bifurcated in that it aims to chronicle the nadir of one pro’s career simultaneously alongside the rise of a relative rookie thrust into the spotlight, but there’s also the behind-the-scenes drama of a beleaguered coach trying to preserve his legacy while politically jousting with his corporate masters.
Dennis Quaid portrays aging legend Cap Rooney, who gets injured in the opening minutes to create a spot for new jack quarterback Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx) to shine. Both are under the supervision of head coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) for the Miami Sharks – a league legend himself who is under fire from team owner Christina Pagiacci (Cameron Diaz), who would not mind replacing the coach if it better served the corporate bottom line.
Pacino is at his haggard best as a veteran navigating the shark-infested waters of professional sports, and Diaz holds her own as a female owner in a male-dominated field (though she does turn her shrewdness all the way up to 11 at times). Foxx and Quaid round out the main cast as two halves of the same sportball coin, and as stellar they are the supporting players likewise shine. James Woods seems at home as a swaggering sports physician, and both LL Cool J and Bill Belamy are at their most likeable as two of Beamen’s smiling teammates. I always chuckle at the performance of John C. McGinley as a cocky sports commentator (ala Jim Rome), who would feel right at home eliciting a spiritual retort from a crusty coach at news conference.
In between passes there is also the theme of tradition vs. the new guard and some interesting commentary on race and sport, with some decent music and action montages to distract you from the heavy thinking as well as tons of pro athletes making appearances. While the proceedings do get kind of bloated, it’s still a slick piece of filmmaking and easily wins over those who go the distance until the clock runs out in overtime.
Winking cameos by real players Jim Brown, Dick Butkus, Terrell Owens and Lawrence Taylor make the sporting world as seen by Stone all the more real and only occasionally distract from the drama on and off the field. The violence of the game is never underplayed (keep in mind this was years before player concussions came under any serious NFL scrutiny), even though Stone sometimes rolls around in it a little too much. The soundtrack featuring late ’90s jock jams by Kid Rock, Fatboy Slim, Moby and DMX inform the story as much as the slower introspective tunes by Robbie Robertson, Billie Holiday and Thelonious Monk.
Legend has it Chris Tucker, Cuba Gooding Jr., and even Puff Daddy were considered for the role that eventually went to Foxx, but he should by no means be considered a scrub here. His commitment to the role was so intense that during a scripted fight Foxx left the set with an all-too-real gash on his forehead courtesy of heated Mr. Cool J.
There is a lot to like about Any Given Sunday, but then there are a lot of things crammed into its buffet of sportsball clichés. However, if nothing else it should be remembered for this speech based upon words Cleveland Browns coach Marty Schottenheimer gave his players during the 1989 AFC playoffs:
If that doesn’t get you to sit through almost three hours of Stone’s ode to the NFL, I don’t know what will. Just make sure you have plenty of snacks on hand.
Any Given Sunday (1999)
Directed by Oliver Stone
MPAA rating: R for language, physical violence and drug/alcohol abuse.
Running time: 2 hours, 42 minutes
Celluloid Scoreboard Final: Immensely watchable with something for everyone regardless of their team affiliation or level of fervor, but the running time may make you call several timeouts.