With Any Given Sunday, Oliver Stone set out to make the ultimate football movie and he succeeded.
Any Given Sunday is not just the story of aging coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino). It’s also the story of how third-string quarterback Willie Beamon (Jamie Foxx) allows celebrity to go to his head while the injured starter, Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid), deals with his own mortality and how, at 38, he is now over-the-hill. It’s also about how the team doctors (represented by James Woods and Matthew Modine) are complicit in pushing the players beyond their limits and how the owners (Cameron Diaz) view those players as a commodity to be traded and toyed with. It’s about how the Sharks represent their home city of Miami and how cynical columnists (John C. McGinley plays a character that is obviously meant to be Jim Rome) deliberately set out to inflame the anger of the team’s fans. It’s about how politicians (Clifton Davis plays Miami’s mayor and asks everyone to “give me some love”) use professional sports to further their own corrupt careers while the often immature men who play the game are elevated into role models by the press. It’s a film that compares football players to ancient gladiators while also showing how the game has become big business. In typical Oliver Stone fashion, it tries to take on every aspect of football while also saying something about America as well.
In the role on Tony D, Pacino famously describes football as being “a game of inches” but you wouldn’t always know it from the way that Oliver Stone directs Any Given Sunday. As a director, Stone has never been one to only gain an inch when he could instead grab an entire mile. (Stone is probably the type of Madden player who attempts to have his quarterback go back and throw a hail mary on every single play.) Tony tells his players to be methodical but Stone directs in a fashion that is sloppy, self-indulgent, and always entertaining to watch. One minute, Al Pacino and Jim Brown are talking about how much the game has changed and the next minute, LL Cool J is doing cocaine off of a groupie’s breast while images of turn-of-the-century football players flash on the screen. No sooner has Jamie Foxx delivered an impassioned speech about the lack of black coaches in the league then he’s suddenly starring in his own music video and singing about how “Steamin’ Willie Beamon” leaves all the ladies “creamin’.” (It rhymes, that’s the important thing.) When Tony invites Willie over to his house, scenes of Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur are on TV. Later in the movie, Heston shows up as the Commissioner and says, about Cameron Diaz, “she would eat her young.”
Any Given Sunday is Oliver Stone at both his best and his worst. The script is overwritten and overstuffed with every possible sports cliché but the football scenes are some of the most exciting that have ever been filmed. Only Oliver Stone could get away with both opening the film with a quote from Vince Lombardi and then having a player literally lose an eye during the big game. Stone himself appears in the commentator’s both, saying, “I think he may have hurt his eye,” while the doctor’s in the end zone scoop up the the torn out eyeball and put it into a plastic bag. Only Stone could get away with Jamie Foxx vomiting on the field during every game and then making amazing plays while a combination of rap, heavy metal, and techno roars in the background. Stone regulars like James Woods and John C. McGinely make valuable appearances and while Woods may be playing a villain, he’s the only person in the film willing to call out the coaches, the players, the owners, and the fans at home as being a bunch of hypocrites. Stone’s direction is as hyper-kinetic as always but he still has no fear of stopping the action so that Foxx can see sepia-toned images of football’s past staring at him from the stands. Stone directs like defensive lineman on steroids, barreling his way through every obstacle to take down his target. No matter what, the game goes on.
Any Given Sunday is the ultimate football movie and more fun than the last ten super bowls combined.