Dec. 25, 1999 -- It appears there is something that Oliver Stone does take seriously, besides Kennedy assassination conspiracy theories, and that is football.
Seriously folks, Stone has taken on Nixon, the Vietnam War, the Kennedy assassination, the evil media ("Natural Born Killers,") in short, every major event and institution in the White People's history of the 60's (Spike Lee is working on the stuff Stone leaves out), so why not football, the secular religion of America that boomed right along with the Baby Boom generation?
Stone opens "Any Given Sunday" with the holy scripture of football according to Vince Lombardi, but he doesn't seem to agree with ol' Vince that winning is the only thing. As in my favorite football movie, "North Dallas 40" the action takes place on a struggling team where the motto is "Whatever it takes to Win." The NFL must have pretty good lawyers, because the story takes place in some mythical league, even though plenty of NFL players, ex-players and stadiums appear in the films.
Among the NFL greats in the film: Hall of Famers, Jim Brown, Dick Butkus, Johnny Unitas, Y.A. Tittle. Lawrence Taylor, who plays Luther 'Shark' Lavay, has one of the better player roles. Others are: Former 49'er Bob St. Clair; a receiver with Hall of Fame stats, Irving Fryar; former Houston QB Warren Moon; 49'er receiver Terrell Owens; former Cowboy head coach Barry Switzer; Seahawk, and former 49'er player Ricky Watters. Of all these players, Taylor has the best part and he does pretty well in his role as a football player. Brown, a veteran actor (he recently appeared in "He Got Game") plays a coach, and does a good job with that role.
Most of the acting is left to actors with the main players being Al Pacino as firey head coach Tony D'Amato (there's more Italian names in this movie than in "The Godfather"). D'Amato is under pressure from team owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) for more victories so she can sell the team, and his star quarterback, Willie Beaman, (Jamie Foxx of "Booty Call") would rather call his own plays than the un-hip, old-fashioned stuff his boss calls in from the sidelines.
There's a good scene between Pacino and Foxx about the meaning of being a team player. Foxx gets to vent some frustration about being a black athlete in a sport controlled by whites. A more troubling question is why is professional football so popular? Is is because the black athletes wear uniforms which cover up most of their features so bigoted sports fans can pretend they are white? Is it because the blacks on the field have to obey the orders given by the white coaches on the sidelines and that little creativity is allowed? Is it because of the extreme violence of the sport? Are they really the modern equivalent of gladiators? The movie suggests this. By the way, this is a marvelous role for Pacino and he dominates most of the other actors in the movie, but Foxx is one of the few who holds his own on the screen with the high-powered Pacino.
Stone's position on the game is that yes, it is a team sport, and yes, that means you run the plays the old white coach sends in to you, even if they aren't very good plays. You don't malign your teammates and you sure don't rock the boat. Maybe from Stone's point of view, football is like making movies. Making movies is a collaborative enterprise, with dozens, if not hundreds of people involved in the final product. They all have to be working toward one goal for the effort to succeed. So you can forgive Stone if he goes overboard in thinking that football is a life and death matter. However, not everything in life is like playing football, or like making movies. Some things are and some are not.
At any rate, this is a high intensity movie with high drama and fast action. There is some nifty camera work by Salvatore Totino ("Night on Earth") that gives you the feeling of being inside the game. The intentional blurring and speeded up motion of some plays gives you the feeling that players might have when they are rushing to complete a play, or when they are blocking out the crowd mentally. The movie has nice effects.
There are certain parts of the film that don't add up. When the quarterback calls his own plays in the huddle, for instance, disregarding the coach's plays, the coach does not catch on for quite some time. It ought to be obvious to the coach that the team is lining up in the wrong formation for the play he called.
The story is based on a book by Rob Huizenga, who was a team doctor. That part Dr. Harvey Mandrake is played by James Woods ("Vampires"). Unfortunately, his does not turn out to be a major role in the movie, because Woods is an outstanding actor.
Dennis Quaid plays the aging quarterback, Jack "Cap" Rooney. There is an amazing scene between him and his wife, Cindy (Lauren Holly), that is really shocking. That scene is one of the many dead ends not explored in this movie. There are characters and situations appearing out of nowhere and then disappearing. Cameron Diaz plays the exact opposite character she played in "There's Something About Mary," a real nasty, soulless unprincipled, Machiavellian owner. Charleton Heston plays the NFL Commissioner. He's still looking chiseled.
There is fine acting here and fine camera work, special effects and stuntwork. There is high drama and a pretty good story. The problem is there are too many loose ends. The editing should have been tighter and the story more focused. This film rates a B. A warning, there is, believe it or not, full frontal male nudity in this movie in some locker room scenes. Also the language is very profane in both the dialogue and in the soundtrack. One song has the "f" word in the title.
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