Release Date: 1999
Director: Oliver Stone (Platoon, JFK, Natural Born Killers)
Writer: John Logan (Gladiator, Skyfall, The Last Samurai), Oliver Stone
Stars: Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, James Woods, Jamie Foxx
Synopsis: A behind the scenes look at the life and death struggles of modern day gladiators and those who lead them.
Having not seen this film since around the time of its release, I was surprised to realize that I had forgotten what an adult tone and aesthetic that it possesses. From the opening scene until the credits roll, Any Given Sunday sports a famously intense script with hard-hitting action scenes that rival any football movie that I am aware of. The reality of the sport is realized by the use of shaky cam and marvelous sound editing as well as using professional football players instead of trained actors. Oliver Stone was the perfect director to be tapped for this gritty capture of America’s most popular sport. He is able to manage a lot of egos on top of leading a great crew in making great decisions on what to keep in the frame and what can be left out, as well as assisting in the editing process where over 3000 cuts were made. The length and breadth of this story had to be a challenge to actually put on the screen, and while it did seem a bit long for audiences who might not like football, it certainly delivers on epic scenes (mostly involving Pacino) and an unforgettable experience. I can only imagine what it might have been like in 1999 to go to the theater and see something this risky and forward-looking. This is as honest as it gets, and Stone definitely deserves praise for his efforts.
The script could have been written on a typewriter in the middle of an NFL locker room for all I know, because not only is it crude, vulgar, and hyper-masculine at times but also seemed authentic and heartfelt. Exploring a barrage of themes and ideas in which sports movies rarely approach, Any Given Sunday dares to include such topics as how media encroachment affects pro sports and asking questions about why African-Americans represent a large majority of players yet are absent in management and ownership. Most interestingly, the movie explores the idea that American football is the bloodsport of our day, comparing it directly to chariot racing and gladiatorial sports of old, even cross-cutting between our movie and Ben-Hur at one point. Another big idea relates to how age affects us all, and especially in sports where careers are highly volatile depending on not just age but injuries that can happen at any moment. Overall, this is a solid screenplay that Stone put to great use.
Al Pacino and Jamie Foxx shine especially bright in this film, but that is not to say that others aren’t magnificent as well. Pacino’s Tony D’Amato character could have easily been out of place as a veteran football coach since we know Pacino so well as that gangster Tony Montana or countless other mafia character illustrations that he has given us. That was not the case, though, as Pacino seemed full of energy and looked refreshed even as a character that was written to be worn down by a career that became his life. I love seeing older actors bring something new to the table. Jamie Foxx plays a third-string quarterback who becomes an overnight celebrity and even a rapper, showing how sports players’ personal branding has become somewhat as important as their performance in the game. Another great performance came from a young Cameron Diaz, who straddled the line between arrogant heiress to a football empire and eager businesswoman desperately trying to rise above her abilities to manage the fading Miami Sharks franchise. Diaz reminds me a lot of Margaret Whitton’s Rachel Phelps from Major League, a former showgirl who becomes owner of the Cleveland Indians after her rich husband passes away. The difference here is that Diaz and the screenwriter take the role one step further and provide more depth to Christina Pagniacci so that we may empathize with her much more than we ever understood similar characters in film history. Other performances that bear mention are NFL superstars Lawrence Taylor and Jim Brown who provided connections with modern-day NFL even though it was frowned upon by the league to participate. Terrell Owens also plays himself and makes big catches in the final game in the film. This is a huge cast and I felt that everyone seemed on the same page and delivered performances that are among their best of their careers.
Wow, what is there to say about the music in this movie? There is so much that I can hardly imagine it not costing a small fortune to license. From Nina Simone to DMX, from Ella Fitzgerald to Black Sabbath, from Billie Holiday to Trick Daddy, and from Swizz Beatz to Hole, every genre and time period in modern American music history seems included. This added a great deal of authenticity to the film likening it to going to an NFL game. Not enough can be said of the incredible use of music here and this is also another area where Stone was not afraid to be risky. Perhaps the Swizz Beats ft. DMX track “My Niggas” relates the tone of the film overall, as it feels futuristic for a movie in 1999 while also portraying a sense of eternal strength.
This movie is quite a wild ride, and one that I do not remember being as risque as it seems today. Perhaps that is an indictment of myself rather than the times, as I surely didn’t appreciate what this film was doing as a teen. Watch this for Pacino’s speeches, as they are some of the best of all-time. I think non-fans will either come out disgusted by the reality of pro sports or educated on the sport as a whole, understanding why sports and life present very similar challenges, and how we overcome them aren’t so different either. Inch by inch, Any Given Sunday is a definite touchdown.