NOTE: At the time of this review the special edition 2-disc set of Any Given Sunday was only available in the Oliver Stone Collection boxed set. It has since been released on its own.
Oliver Stone never does anything by half. In each of his films, from Platoon to Wall Street, JFK to Nixon, he always seeks to make THE definitive movie on any given topic. Even though his main focus has been on the Viet Nam war, its aftermath, and the culture that grew up around it, his other films have been equally grandiose. That's why it's no surprise that his football epic, Any Given Sunday includes everything but the kitchen sink. His other recent off-topic film, U-Turn, sought to include every twist-and-turn available to films noir in the Detour vein, and Any Given Sunday doesn't skip anything either. On-field drama, back-room business deals, medical shenanigans, locker room trash-talking, media braggery, sexual tomfoolery, coke snorting, and just about everything else (except, perhaps, a steroid scandal) is pulled out to define football as, predictably, the gladiatorial sport of our times (or rather, as one player puts it while watching Charlton Heston in Ben Hur, those were the gladiators of THEIR time).
Any Given Sunday, which follows a difficult half-season for the fictional Miami Sharks, reminded me of an overstuffed meatball hero: full of balls, a lot of fun, but in the end, maybe a little too much meat and not enough nutrition. From the opening shot (a huge close-up of a football shot like a 2001 monolith), Stone is reverent of the game itself and what he perceives as the ideals of team play, of glory, of awe in the physical achievements of other men. He reins in his visual style for most of the movie (well, reined in for Stone) so that we can really appreciate the movement of the players and the bone-crunching hits they take. The games are very cinematic; He approaches the opening moments like it's D-Day and he's Steven Spielberg. When a player more used to warming the bench steps onto the field for the first time the disorientation he feels is palpable. You can tell that he never expected the field to feel so different during game-time.
The characters are mostly pretty interesting and the huge cast does some good work, most notably Al Pacino, for once given an appropriate reason to yell a lot, and Jamie Foxx, giving a surprisingly textured performance for a guy who started on In Living Color (Together with Marlon Wayans' outstanding performance in Requiem For a Dream I'm thinking about going back and reevaluating that show for thespian excellence). Pacino and Foxx work really well together. The dynamic of the older, worn coach and the young, brash hot-shot quarterback is one that has been explored before, but in the hands of these two actors it seems fresh. It's impossible to picture the glass-jawed Puff Daddy in this role, which was originally planned. Foxx portrays a bravery but also a sensitivity that Puff Daddy would never have been able to achieve. Stone was smart to cut P-Diddy and go with a real actor.
In addition to the two leads, Dennis Quaid is excellent as the older, more traditional QB, sidelined by injury. LL Cool J, Jim Brown, James Woods, Matthew Modine, and Aaron Eckhardt are all equally effective as various members of the Sharks organization, each with their own personal motivations. NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor is surprisingly good as an older defensive lineman who constantly skirts serious injury.
In such a testosterone-heavy film it's surprising to see a strong female lead character: Cameron Diaz plays the young owner of the Sharks as a business savvy woman whose decisions are driven by the bottom line. At times it's a thankless role, requiring her to play boo-hiss villain to Pacino's great guy coach, but she plays it well. There seems to be, however, room for only one complex female character. Lauren Holly, Lela Rochon, Elizabeth Berkley, and a soused Ann-Margret seem to have wandered in from another movie and been given nothing to do.
While Stone plays with the notion of a woman owning such a paragon of maleness as a football team, he shows no fear in exploring the racial dynamic presented on a professional team. Early on when Pacino suggests that a nervous Foxx imagine he's back in the hood giving directions to a friend like "run out to the Buick" there is a strange element of condescension to the parallel. Later, however, when the two men get to know each other better they come to a deeper understanding. Just the fact that Pacino is forced to replace his star white QB with a black player makes a statement. Flava Flav bragged about getting a black quarterback into the Super Bowl on 1988's It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back but movies have traditionally put white players in this leadership position. And what image can be more striking than Cameron Diaz, blonde-haired, blue-eyed cover girl that she is, walking straight into the sweaty locker room of her team and shaking hands with a full-frontally nude black player? Stone challenges the idea of what is permissible in a big Hollywood studio movie and does it with style.
Any Given Sunday never really indicts the football industry too heavily. The football commissioner, played by an embalmed-looking Charlton Heston (he's everywhere!), seems on the up-and-up putting the kaibosh on a crooked deal before it really blossoms into anything other than a half-baked sub-plot. Everyone whines about how Taylor's character needs to play because he has four kids to support but no one mentions that he might not have the same financial worries if he spent less time in his jacuzzi with $1000 an hour prostitutes. Ultimately none of this matters since the point is the game. Any Given Sunday ends with a big play-off game, a little too Bad News Bears for a filmmaker as self-aware as Stone but at least it is played out as an epic one with each key player getting a moment to shine. In the end, it's only the team that matters. Everything else pales in comparison to the glory of the game.
The anamorphic transfer for Any Given Sunday is excellent. It's not quite as crisp as, say, the recent Seven release, but those are big shoes to fill. Any Given Sunday is really colorful with lots of reds and yellow, but there is not noticeable bleeding or compression.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is most prominent during the game sequences. The sound production is pretty layered and bold. The sound drops out entirely at key moments, like right before particularly violent tackles, and the soft-loud dynamic works well.
The film is also filled with a mix of heavy metal, hip-hop, and ambient music (we probably won't see a movie that follows Trick Daddy with Black Sabbath for a while) and it sounds good. The bass in some of the hip-hop tracks really gives the subwoofer a workout. My only complaint with the music is that too much Moby is used. I like Play as much as the next guy but Stone uses virtually the entire album. What does he think this is, a car commercial?
The 2-disc release of Any Given Sunday included in The Oliver Stone Collection boxed set features a large number of extras. The first disc includes the director's cut of the film (which restores quite a bit of footage), and two audio commentary tracks, one from Stone and one from Foxx. Stone is not the most dynamic speaker and previous commentaries on his more political films were fascinating for his vast store of research and experience, but here he's less interesting. Foxx gives an uninspired commentary as well, leaving gaps and kissing Stone's butt. These are commentaries for die-hard fans only. Also included is the trailer.
Disc two includes HBO's Full Contact behind the scenes piece, a half-hour documentary on the making of the film that is actually pretty good. Pacino doesn't appear but every other major cast member is interviewed. Some interesting footage is presented of a weird camera rig that got a bug's eye view of the gridiron action.
Footage of Jamie Foxx's screen test is pretty silly and doesn't add much. It's tough to tell from this video footage what it was in Foxx that Stone was attracted to.
An LL Cool J video and two Jamie Foxx videos are included. Foxx is definitely a better actor than singer.
The DVD-ROM portion includes an interesting feature: An edit suite that allows the user to recut several scenes and also to hear editor Tom Nordberg discuss the process through which he shaped this huge film.
The DVD-ROM also contains some games and web-site content.
Any Given Sunday is not one of Oliver Stone's most personal films but, through his use of such a large canvas and smart casting, he has created a pretty satisfying portrait of a uniquely American sport. Football may not be exactly the same as fighting a tiger or dueling to the death, but Stone imbues it with that sort of urgency and, in doing so, makes it larger than life.