December 7, 2011

Any Given Sunday (1999)

Another old review that I've posted elsewhere some time ago, but it's worth posting again here because it's such a criminally underseen and underrated film.

1999. Directed by Oliver Stone. Starring Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, Dennis Quaid, Cameron Diaz, LL Cool J and Charlton Heston.

I’ve said this to people many, many times, but it is worth constantly celebrating: 1999 was the greatest year for American cinema in our lifetime. There were simply too many brilliant films released that year. It was actually impossible to keep up. It was the year of American Beauty, Fight Club, The Matrix, Being John Malkovich, The Sixth Sense, Boys Don’t Cry and Man on the Moon. It included great animated films such as Toy Story 2, Tarzan, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut and The Iron Giant. It also included this: Any Given Sunday, an epic two-and-a-half hour love letter to American football from writer/director Oliver Stone.
It seemed such a lightweight film. This was the creative force behind Salvador, Platoon (both 1986), Wall Street (1987), JFK (1991) and Nixon (1995). A movie about professional football seemed ridiculous, almost comedic. The first time I saw it I was amazed to find it one of the best films he’s ever directed.
The star of the film is, perversely enough, the editing. It’s a masterpiece of rapid cutting, both pictures and music. It never stays still for long. The frantic pace and adrenalin-filled panic of live sports have never been more effectively portrayed on screen. It’s also a film full of memories, primarily of protagonist and Miami football coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino). Stone uses archival footage, cross-fades and montages to beautifully evoke the sense of being haunted by the past. Tony is a man whose best years seem behind him – something the club’s new owner (Cameron Diaz) seems only too eager to drive home – and is realising that he’s possibly lost the entirety of a normal life obsessing for decades over a football team. It’s a typical performance for Pacino, in that it’s bold and theatrical. Pacino’s past has always unashamedly been on the stage, and he’s only grown larger and larger than life as his career’s gone on. He’s sometimes accused of over-acting. Here the performance perfectly matches the part.
While it’s Pacino’s story that forms the film’s core, an ensemble of other storylines spiral around it. There’s Cameron Diaz’s hard-nosed team owner, who’s inherited the business from her dead father and is struggling to emerge from his shadow. There’s Dennis Quaid as an ageing quarterback sidelined by a back injury. There’s LL Cool J as an endorsement focused player. Lawrence Taylor plays another player facing permanent disability or even death if he gets injured in the field any more, but with one more tackle he can earn his million dollar bonus.
Finally there’s Jamie Foxx in a great performance as rising football star Willie Beamen, dragged from the bench to stand in while Quaid recovers. Prior to this film Foxx was best known as a comedian on TV’s In Living Color. His performance is one of those sudden revelations – a comedic performer who demonstrates sudden and previously unthought-of dramatic skills. Some years later he would win the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in Ray. Back here in 1999, you can see that the talent is already there.

Any Given Sunday is a love letter to professional football. There’s something inherently dramatic about the sport, more so than baseball or basketball. It has inspired so many decent film dramas over the years. It’s an emotional sport, and an adrenalin-charged one. It seems to automatically generate drama.
I think one of Oliver Stone’s great strengths as a director is the passion he brings to his subject matter. Any Given Sunday is as passionate about football as JFK was about the assassination of John F Kennedy and Platoon was about Stone’s own Vietnam War experience. It’s a stronger film because of it. It feels like an epic. During one key scene, Pacino and Foxx have a conversation that turns into a furious argument. On Pacino’s television plays Ben Hur (amusingly, Any Given Sunday actually features Ben Hur’s star, Charlton Heston, in cameo). As the argument increases and the volume ramps up, Stone keeps cutting back to Ben Hur. He gets it. Any Given Sunday is an epic too. To these characters it’s just as high stakes a drama.
More than that, it’s just plain brilliant.

1 comment:

  1. It is a brilliant film. Tell me, did you ever see North Dallas 40? If not, track it down.


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