ANY GIVEN SUNDAY is red meat for football fans, and even those not heated by the gridiron will be drawn in by the visual bravura and intense performances from a top-quality cast. I’m one of the “worthless & weak” (to quote ‘Niedermeyer’) slugs who could give a flying…tackle…about the sport, which I guess makes me a Commie Martian or worse, but Oliver Stone’s thunderous 1999 epic about the gloriously brutal game and its blood-stakes gamesmanship is a great football movie. *
The ‘Miami Sharks’ have slipped, enough that team-owning tigress ‘Christina Pagniacci’ (Cameron Diaz) wants to dump aging coach ‘Tony D’Amato’ (Al Pacino) and his veteran quarterback ‘Cap Rooney’ (Dennis Quaid), the latter for arrogant but gifted showboat ‘Willie Beamen’ (Jamie Foxx).
Directed with his signature locomotive propulsion by fire-breather Stone, who co-wrote the fierce script with John Logan (and eight others pitching in), what’s delivered is a profane and bruising swipe at the underside of corporate-controlled mayhem as pastime. Immersively shot, edited (over 3,000 cuts), sound-finessed and scored to quicken the pulse, it’s a galvanizing pastiche of bone-crushing field action and cutthroat maneuvering in locker rooms, offices and party-pit mansions loaded with party favors. With big money, livelihoods and prestige, battered bodies and boiling egos on the chopping block, power-plays are made using ageism, the race card, malpractice, seduction and seemingly outmoded honor to settle old scores so that new ones can be made.
Though on the surface the lead characters and their turf—venerable coach vs. ruthless boss, old warhorse vs. young hotshot—are familiar, the characterizations are all multi-layered and the actors fully invested. At 58, Pacino tops out a decade of sterling portraits. Quaid’s a natural fit as the injury-riddled ‘old man’ of the team, and Diaz proved she had dramatic chops as strong as her comedic flair. Likely channeling his own considerable store of attitude, Foxx burns it up as the flamboyant but foolish upstart who needs to learn the rules. Stone gives plum supporting roles to past-era stalwarts Jim Brown (never better) as D’Amato’s badass defensive coordinator, and ever-lovely Ann-Margret, nailing it as Christina’s perpetually soused, quietly embittered mother. Numerous blistering arguments give the actors much to relish.
Lavishly arrayed for $55,000,000, in 1999 it scored 27th in the States, $75,531,000 that was ¾ of the global touchdown of $100,231,000.
Stone allowed himself a small role as a sportscaster and gave Charlton Heston a neat cameo as the football commissioner. With James Woods (as a snake), LL Cool J, Lawrence Taylor, Lela Rachon (her fight with Foxx a highlight), Aaron Eckhart, John C. McGinley (in top weasel mode), Matthew Modine, Lauren Holly (very good), Bill Bellamy, Elizabeth Berkley, Andrew Bryniarski, Gianni Russo, James Karen. Cameos from sport greats include Dick Butkus, Y.A.Tittle, Johnny Unitas and Terrell Owens. Released theatrically at 162 minutes, recut later by the director for disc afterlife at 157.
* Tiresome Stone bashers will scorn this in favor of cheering the excellent North Dallas Forty, but no less than Jim Brown weighs in that Stone’s balls-in-motion rouser captures the sport better than any other. While your fumbling correspondent is not a football fan (other than ogling the cheerleaders goddesses, who I’m certain would fall for me in an instant) and really detest all the hoo-haw bullshit around the actual games—not least it being used by wimp politicians to link it with America’s war-machine—I do enjoy it in the movies. Hike forth The Longest Yard, Semi-Tough, The Wanderers, Jerry McGuire, Brian’s Song, Leatherheads, Paper Lion…