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ANY GIVEN SUNDAY

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J
Director: Oliver Stone
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 157 Minutes
Release Date: August 7, 2001

Film ****

Give Oliver Stone something to talk about, and believe me, he will deliver with a very real and open mind. I instantly developed this opinion of one of our greatest filmmakers after seeing his latest opus, Any Given Sunday. Stone’s films in the past have covered everything from war, politics, the media, Wall Street, and The Doors, but I must admit, I the last subject I would’ve ever expected a filmmaker like Stone to cover would be that of professional sports. Though after my first viewing of this movie, I’m glad he made it and no one else. Stone’s movie sacks you quicker and harder than the nearest on-coming defensive tackle. I very much consider it to be THE best football movie to ever grace the screen but one of the best sports movies ever made, because unlike so many formulaic sports movies, Any Given Sunday really takes you inside the game, literally. Watching the movie, you truly feel as if you are attending a real game surrounded by the roar of a thousand fans. This is also the first football movie that I’ve seen that deals with pain and suffering that goes along with being a professional athlete, both on and off the field.

The team chronicled in the movie is the fictitious Miami Sharks, coached by veteran football coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino), but controlled in the corporate office by Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), the daughter of the team’s founder. Pagniacci is a no-nonsense businesswoman with not a care in the world for the game. Her goal is to get funding to build a stadium in Los Angeles, where she hopes to relocate the team. She is also a thorn in D’Amato’s side, as she tells him to get his act together and make his team win, no matter what it takes, and threatens D’Amato’s pride with the possibility of trading two star players in the off-season. In its own right, the day-to-day business of pro sports is a gridiron battle itself, with business owners clashing with coaches.

The Sharks are experiencing a truly bad losing streak, and are only a few games away from the playoffs. As the movie opens, the team loses it’s first two quarterbacks due to serious injuries, including it’s veteran star quarterback, Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid), leaving the door opened for rookie third stringer Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), which turns up some unexpected results for the team, and soon a star is born in Beamen, who brings the Sharks back to victory for the next few games. Beamen is soon quickly seduced by the fame, attention, money, and all the other elements that come with stardom, and his views on the entire game proceed to change. Meanwhile, numerous teammates do not appreciate Beamen manipulating the spotlight, most notably fellow Sharks Julian “J-Man” Washington (LL Cool J) and “Shark” Lava (Lawrence Taylor).

Apart from being a striking look into the world of football, Any Given Sunday is also a technical masterpiece. Just about every other football movie pales in comparison to the individual game sequences in this film. Watching the movie, you feel every tackle as if you are the one who got sacked. It is loud and furious to the senses. Stone has recently been known for giving his movies a much-needed shot of adrenaline in the editing and cinematography department, resulting in enhancing a jolt-like effect to the viewer. This time around, Stone has energized his movie into a blazingly, brilliantly frenetic, high-speed rocket like of a movie, much in the spirit of Natural Born Killers. One scene, in particular blew me away every time I saw it, and still does in every viewing. D’Amato invites Beamen over for dinner at his house, and they get into a heated debate on Beamen’s future in the team, which is intercut with scenes from the classic film Ben Hur. It is a moment of true and perfect symbolism in cinema, symbolizing that gladiators in their time are no different from the present-day gladiators who fight their battles on the football field. There some interesting surprises in the movie, such as Foxx’s character chewing up the scenery in a music video for a song aptly titled “My Name is Willie”. It’s part of a brilliantly put together montage of scenes illustrating that Willie has become the ultimate sell-out athlete, gracing endless covers of sports magazines, and appearing in numerous commercials.

Of all of Stone’s films, this is by far the most star-studded a cast he’s ever assembled. Also featured is James Woods as the team orthopedist with slippery tactics, Matthew Modine as the more ethical team doctor, Aaron Eckhart as the team’s offensive coordinator, John C. McGinley as a paparazzi-like sports journalist who’s always had a distaste for D’Amato, Ann-Margaret as Pagniacci’s mother whose emotions have been rocked time and time again because of her dead husband’s establishment, and to top it all off, Charlton Heston as the football commissioner.

This is a movie for true football fans, as well as fans of hard-edged moviemaking. It also makes a terrific substitute for Sunday afternoon if your favorite team happens to be losing drastically, or if there’s not a single exciting game on. If you can’t find the rock ‘em sock ‘em quality the next time you watch pro football, let Oliver Stone deliver it for you with one of his greatest achievements to date.

Video ***1/2

For the most part, a strikingly triumph of a video transfer. The anamorphic presentation shines all the way through the viewing, with the exception of a few moments of color bleeding in some of the early scenes, as well as lot of brightness, but maybe that was the work of the movie itself and not the disc. At any rate, the visual quality is one of good Warner fare.

Audio ****

TOUCHDOWN, WARNER BROS. (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself) A complete knockout of an audio transfer from the folks at the WB. The 5.1 Dolby Digital presentation seems to capture every sack, hit, and knocks to the ground, and given that the movie itself is made up of loud volume, including even that of Pacino’s voice, lol, a glorious audio job is to be expected, and it was absolutely delivered.

Features ****

Without a doubt, the one added touch that was needed to the previous DVD release. Warner, as part of the recently issued Oliver Stone Collection, has thoughtfully reissued Any Given Sunday in a two disc set, much like its re-release of JFK, loaded with a truly nice batch of extras. On disc one, there are two running commentaries; one from Oliver Stone, and the other from numerous cast and crew members, and a trailer for the movie.

On disc two, there’s the HBO documentary, “Full Contact: The Making of Any Given Sunday”, deleted and extended scenes, some outtakes from Jamie Foxx’s audition/screen tests, a gag reel, a production still and ad material photo galleries, and three music videos; “Shut Em Down” by LL Cool J, “My Name is Willie” by Jamie Foxx, and “Any Given Sunday” by Jamie Foxx.

Summary:

As far as the sports genre is concerned, Any Given Sunday is as good as one can get for a dosage of real sports action. Credit Oliver Stone, a filmmaker whose still one of a kind, for assembling an astonishing cast of actors and athletes to help create a intense and thought provoking motion picture.