For most of my life I’ve abhorred football. I’ve considered it a boring sport played by neanderthals that pushed the male stereotype of brawn over brains. I was that rebel in high school that never went to a football game because organized sports were fascist. That is until my senior year when I was finally convinced to go to our last homecoming game. Shockingly, it wasn’t painful torture as I had expected, but instead a social interaction that was, dare I say, fun.
However, that still didn’t cement my interest in the game. It took my recent significant other and his family’s deep abiding love for the game to actually allow me to see football as a game of agility, strength, and strategic intelligence. I learned the basic rules and found rooting for a team exhilarating. Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday takes the game of football and openly dissects every aspect of it, making for an engrossing, high-octane story that reflects why millions passionately love the game.
On any given Sunday, anything can happen, win or lose; this is the motto frequently repeated throughout the film. Any Given Sunday is the story of the slow but steady rise of a failing football team, The Miami Sharks. Lead by head coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pachino), the film begins with The Sharks in the middle of a losing streak. During the 2nd quarter, their quarterback, Jack Rooney (Dennis Quaid), endures a crippling injury, and shortly after, so does their second string quarterback. The team find themselves at the mercy of 3rd string quarterback Willie Beamer (Jaime Foxx), a young, inexperienced player.
Although the team loses, Willie builds his confidence and leads the team to a comeback in later games; however, he does so by changing the plays while on the field. As he rises in fame, so does his arrogance. A clash of egos takes place between Willie and his teammates as well as between Willie and Tony. The pressure to win and stay relevant begins to take its toll on the team, and on Tony, who finds himself at odds with the team’s new owner Christine Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) and his own confidence.
“OK kid, take that ball, run down that court, and kick it in the goal. You got it?”
A gritty, fast-paced spectacle, Any Given Sunday is a mesmerizing stylized account of every aspect of football. Stone treads into the waters of each level of football, showing insight into the game with meticulous detail. Stone’s auteuristic direction utilizes a smorgasbord of camera positions and edits to put viewers directly in the middle of the action. The first chunk of the film is a seeing eye into the last few quarters of a Shark’s game through every lens possible. We whip along the field with players, witness the rush and impact of contact, and we see the mass body of the crowd as well as the individual reactions on the faces of the fans. We sit in the box of Offensive Coordinator, Nick Crozier (Aaron Eckhart), as he communicates down to Tony on the field, and we hear the heartfelt speeches delivered to the team at half-time. Later in the film we even hang out with the guys in their locker room as they shower and joke around in complete uncut nudity.
Stone’s all inclusive attention to detail of the multifaceted levels of football makes the sport more than a game. It allows viewers to see the hard work that goes into it as well as the dangers each player faces when he’s out on the field. We are exposed to the business side of the profession with Stone giving viewers insight into the politics and pressure involved in making that business run well. Diaz’s tough as nails, money hungry Christina becomes the keystone of how that very business can destroy an individual’s grasp of humanity, just as Willie’s arrogance does the same on the opposite end of the spectrum.
Now sure, Any Given Sunday is a gripping story told through an array of cinematic techniques, but there’s a fine line between stylizing and over-stimulating viewers through a barrage of images. Stone barely walks that line well enough to pass a sobriety test. The biggest problem of Any Given Sunday ends up being Stone’s coked out brain regurgitating too many images on screen at once. Any Given Sunday is a two and a half hour movie that visits a little over four weeks with the Sharks, and although it tells a coherent story in great depth, it moves at the speed of a cheetah on a treadmill.
“The drug war!? You mean the one I battle every year?”
Because of this, at times the tricks and techniques used throughout are annoyingly distracting from what is going on within the film. Not only do you have to keep up with football jargon, discussions of football economics, and getting to know the personal relationships of each person, but you also are subjected to acid-like flashbacks that seem like the product of an ADD mind. Stock footage of lightning flashes are randomly intercut into scenes of dialogue, ghost like images of crowds appear, then fade away during games, unrelated and sometimes semi-related scenes appear for a second or two while another scene is going on, there are picture into picture shots, shots that randomly turn into surveillance footage or products of solarization, and a slew of other shots that happen because you know, why not? There’s so much going on so fast that I felt like I needed a downer to make it all make sense.
Any Given Sunday is pretty dated with its neon bright-colored clothing, age-y aesthetics, and blaring, eclectic soundtrack. Most of the film fills like an ex-football player’s post traumatic stress flashbacks, but despite it all Any Given Sunday is an engaging story that makes you view football on a deeper level. It takes the sport and exposes all the cogs in the wheel that makes it work, from the business ethics on the high end to the lower end’s personal conflicts that emerge from playing the game. It even dabbles in the inequality of financial distribution for players in the AFFA, as well as how a player’s race effects his standing and how egos can destroy team morale and the ethics of the game.
Any Given Sunday is no Remember the Titans. It doesn’t make you feel warm and tingly inside by the end. There’s a lot more going on beneath the surface and like it or not, Stone’s spastic way of telling the story keeps you glued. For all that it does, it’s shockingly coherent and impressive, making it one of the better sports dramas in existence.
Take a Drink: every time you hear the phrase “any given Sunday.”
Take a Drink: every time a cut to a lightening strike happens.
Take a Drink: every time Oliver Stone appears onscreen.
Take a Drink: every time The Sharks lose.
Do a Shot: for every penis you see.