You know the drill: team's down at the half, QB's nursing an injury with a weepy girlfriend in the stands, and a coach is forced to bolster a waning team from the depths of mental and physical defeat. That's the kind of jazz that highlights a lot of high school and college football films like Friday Night Lights and Rudy. Any Given Sunday, however, isn't interested with pristine kids playing for the purity of the game. Instead, Oliver Stone's film exists in a whirlwind of bonuses and residuals, dynamics that overpower that same starry-eyed whimsy that may've existed in its players before they reached "the show". It's not that the Sharks -- the focal team in Stone's sports character drama -- don't carry the ferocity; it's just that they've got a different cocktail of cash incentives and misguided heroism filling their marrow-drained skeletons. That's what makes Stone's film unique, as it shows the possible afterthoughts when public image and wealth mix with players' love for the game.
Any Given Sunday wrangles together all the ugliness caking the world of pro football and paints a satirical character portrait with all of its morphine-infused acidity, resulting in a chaotic critique on the parallels between consumerist projection and hyped talent. Al Pacino (The Godfather) plays successful coach Tony D'Amato, the scrappy-yet-weathered veteran trying to wrangle together his Sharks into a decent football team for the up-and-coming season. But he's under fire; new team owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz, The Mask), the previous owner's daughter, wants to bring her club into a new generation with a fresh outlook -- one that might include a more lucrative geographic location and a youthful chief on the sidelines. Currently, she and Tony are working with a medley of weathered veterans and misguided kids with dollar signs in their eyes, highlighted by flavor-of-the-week third string QB Willie Beaman (Jamie Foxx, Ray) as he fills in for injured team leader "Cap" Rooney (Dennis Quaid, Dragonheart). Between their dissimilarly-minded drives, they tug and tear at the fabric of the Sharks' ball club to make them a successful entity in this cutthroat climate.
Archetypal stigmas become the most important elements in Any Given Sunday, giving each ball player, coach, and corporate suit an amusing edge that keeps Stone's mood on the sardonic side. It's all there: the residual-hunting running back (L.L. Cool J, Deep Blue Sea) rushing towards his bonuses, a conflicted doctor (James Woods, Videodrome) who makes questionable decisions based on club pressure and the "gladiatorial" push to keep the gridiron warriors fighting, as well as a head coach who struggles with feeling stuck in an environment that worries more with bank accounts than the glory days of athletic pride. The great thing about this dynamic range of characters is that they feed into Willie Beaman as if he's some kind of empty shell waiting for flesh to be poured in, literally assembling him into a Frankenstein's monster from the decrepit bits and pieces of the industry. He adds his own little dashes of country-boy charm and entrepreneurial pastiche -- with heavy thanks to a constrained performance from post-TV, pre-Ray Jamie Foxx -- but he's mostly a product of the hype machine and its worshippers.
It's hard to imagine that taking on a full-blown critique on a professional sport's fruit bruises would be all that daunting, but it is -- and it couldn't be in a more thoroughly-introspective pair of hands than Oliver Stone's. As he has several times in the past, the Wall Street and Born on the Fourth of July director takes a heavy-handed approach while handling Any Given Sunday. He's not the kind of director to ease off of the critical message behind portraying the broken quarterback's wife as a heartless manipulator, nor the type to candy-coat the weepy stance taken by cocky Beaman as he justifies his money-grubbing persona over jambalaya at his coach's house. Thankfully, he also makes certain to include splashes of legitimately funny humor to keep its temper amusing, though he never takes his eye off of his message scheming for too long.
As a result, Any Given Sunday becomes a vigorous character film, one that hinges on dynamics between authority figures and their power-hungry "inferiors" -- though they'd die before allowing the suits to think as such. Pacino and Diaz are both surprisingly good; Pacino's too be expected, as his role as the loneliness-fearing Tony D'Amato pops up near the apex of his late-'90s "angry" roles in the vein of Devil's Advocate and Heat, but Diaz crafts a surprisingly complex and strong entity out of heiress Pagniacci. Their chemistry works mainly because of the differences in their methods as actors, giving them the right sort of repellent rapport that implies divisive opinions without defining clear protagonists or antagonists. Stone gradually builds both Diaz' and James Woods' characters into the enemies by way of blooming theatrics in the story's 11th hour, even though there's inklings of humanity in their actions. It's a clever network of dealings between a broad range of characters -- including some especially solid turns from ex-NFL stars Lawrence Taylor and Jim Brown -- even considering that it gets overly-animated and forceful . Then again, remember, this is an environment where one sack could be worth six to seven digits.
But does all this hyper-critical scheming and eruptive masculinity overshadow the actual football in Any Given Sunday? Enormously, but that's part of Stone's bull-headed gameplan. He's strategically planted the footage -- all shot under the eye of Cinderella Man cinematographer Salvatore Totino -- in a way that drops you repeatedly into the middle of the thunderous action ... then allows it to be overshadowed by inflated lavishness laced with dry comedy. As a result, tone becomes Any Given Sunday's biggest opponent; it packs a moody punch that wavers between humor, sports adrenaline, and cutthroat marketing ethics, but then it tries to throttle up with a semi-cheery chivalric punch much like its other influences. It doesn't have either a score composed by Explosion in the Sky blaring in its background or a hobbit tearing down rushers or pass receivers, but Oliver Stone's half-serious, half tongue-and-cheek football film still has the same shape of spirit -- even if you can't spot it through all the testosterone and dollar bills clouding the way.
Video and Audio:
Any Given Sunday displays a load of fierce cinematography, all packed to the gills with Miami as its backdrop drenched in bold primary and secondary colors -- with an overcoat of black jumping into the picture. One of the best scenes to embody all the film's positives and negatives occurs during Willie Beaman's dinner with Tony D'Amato, a scene that works out black levels, color saturation, and dimensionality with nice depth of field rendering. Warner Brothers' 1080p transfer, presented in a bright VC-1 encode, handles this rich, highly contrasted 2.35:1 image with a few caveats. Pinhole print damage can be cleanly seen at several points during the film, as can a heavy layer of grain throughout that projects a mix of film texture and digital noise. Contrast also tends to suffer just a bit in areas, as shadows have a buzzing gray-ish property to them that can be off-putting.
To counterbalance these negatives, WB has made certain to render texture levels and color boldness to as high a degree as possible -- and, impressively, with minimal manipulation or edge enhancement. The blistering green of the field, the splashes of neon as the film follows the ballclub afterhours, as well as the somewhat smoggy range of whites and tans accentuate the film's mood properly. Solidity does get to be an issue against some skin tones and, especially, against any shade of red. It's still a highly enjoyable transfer, but it doesn't render the kind of richness that the photography implies that it can show off. The grit -- both in intentional harshness and by way of this Blu-ray disc's transfer -- supports the grimy attitude of the film to proper degrees.
Fairing better, the TrueHD 5.1 track is bold, clear, and certainly up to the task of presenting a booming football experience amid the drama -- one certainly more dynamic and sprawling than the Dolby Digital 5.1 track also available on the disc. Stone takes the film down to field level, letting loose all the snarling adrenaline-fueled ferocity on its audience with rich, multifaceted sound design. It's represented well here, stretching to the LFE channel quite a bit with all its sharp hits. Also strongly prevalent is an infused mix of hip-hop and rock tunes, all of which drape atop the film with surprising strength for its energetic disposition. They all sounded fantastic, working out the speakers far more than the rest of the sound elements. Amid all this hustle and bustle is a string of dialogue, something that shows off the track's minor weaknesses in verbal clarity and solidity. Despite those minor waning points, this track's a strong one with plenty of crispness to support the sound design extremely well. Subtitles are available in a ridiculous number of options -- English, French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese and Swedish -- while French, Spanish, German, and Italian 5.1 Dolby tracks are available as other audio options.
Commentaries (Oliver Stone, Jamie Foxx):
We've got two feature commentaries here -- one from director Oliver Stone and another from star Jamie Foxx -- that differ greatly in their content. Stone's a methodical filmmaker filled with insight and critique, which echoes in his sober commentary. He keeps the energy low-key as he explains the concepts and Film 101 style of information. Jamie Foxx keeps his cool as well, interestingly enough, splicing in minor jabs at humor here and there. But he also reveals some nice anecdotes about the film as well -- "Here's a bit of trivia for you" style -- such as specific songs and streams of dialogue that might not be readily digested by our eyes. He also discusses the testosterone and ad-libbing that he did during a big argument scene.
Jamie Foxx Screen Tests (6:46, VC-1 SD):
Foxx's screen tests consist of three segments: a slew of home-brew footage cooked up by the actor and his friends to showcase his physical talents, as well as two more traditional tests involving a reader and Lela Rochon. These spots are a lot of fun to watch, but they're also interesting because they capture Foxx when his talent was a bit more raw and unpolished.
Full Contact: Making of Any Given Sunday (27:07, VC-1 SD):
HBO's standard behind-the-scenes featurette covers all the core basis, from actor motives to directorial insight about the reasons he made the film. It's a quick-paced, digestible featurette that gives ample behind-the-scenes screentime to see how testosterone-infused this film was to shoot.
Deleted Scenes (32:09, VC-1 SD):
Let's face it: Any Given Sunday is long enough at over two and a half hours. This is a shame since there's still a lot of great footage left on the cutting room floor. Stone could probably piece together a three-hour epic from all the material that he had to work with, and it still would've been very good. Lets of great bits -- from Beaman's rejection of an invitation to a team bible study, to the footage with Jim Caviezal as D'Amato's son -- are all handled extremely well.
Also included are a series of Outtake Montages (Gag Reel, Football, Landscape -- around 10 minutes total) and Instant Replay footage shots that single out the football scenes, a Music-Only Audio Track for the film, three Music Videos featuring Jamie Foxx and LL Cool J, a series of image galleries that cover the Art of Selling poster concepts and full-blown Production Stills, and an attractive-looking Theatrical Trailer.
If you're not in the mood for the one-note chivalry and optimism of traditional football flicks, then Any Given Sunday should be right up your alley. Jim Brown himself states in interview footage that Stone's film is the most accurate portrayal of professional football that's been made, something I'd be inclined to agree with him on. Atop outstandingly shot game footage filled with enough grit and personality to entertain alone, the antics off the field contain satirical tones and lines of hypercritical dialogue that build the film into an entertaining hodgepodge of character portrayals. Any Given Sunday's often-times very humorous, but also displays ample chops in the performance spectrum of things -- especially from Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx.
WB's Blu-ray presentation gets the job done without any major surprises, as it carries over the special features from the Director's Cut DVD without any added frills. Visually it could look a bit better, but the TrueHD audio makes up for the weaknesses in its visual design. Considering Any Given Sunday's entertainment/critique one-two punch delivers a lot of pure cinematic indulgence, this Blu-ray presentation comes with a lukewarm Recommendation based on the serviceable presentation of the film.