Sunday, January 01, 2006

Any Given Sunday (1999)

If there is a pet peeve I have with movies, it is when they don't know when to slow down, shut up and be quiet.

In this post-postmodern (or whatever the academics are calling it) era of cinema, visuals fill the screen at split-second near subliminal speed. The soundtrack jumps from snippets of song-to-song like a kid with ADD tweaking a playlist on his computer. For a movie to be considered "exciting" nowadays, every knob has to be turned up to eleven for fear the audience will turn their heads away for even a moment.

The root of my bitching doesn't come from the fact that I can't process all this information at once. I am product of the MTV Generation (tm). I can walk, chew gum, fiddle with my mp3 player, and play a video game at the same time. I don't think all movies should use interminable, Kubrick-esque tracking shots. Sometimes I even like the fast, immersive, music video-style cutting in movies. See Oliver Stone's JFK, where quick inserts and montage make the movie feel like a documentary as much as a narrative. See Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers, where shifting film stocks and surreal process shots envelope the viewer in its protagonists fractured worldview.

See Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday as an example of a misuse of that style. While the fast cutting and "shakey cams" work in the scenes on the football field (though sometimes at the expense of the spatial clarity of the action) Stone doesn't know when to dial it down and just let a scene play out with no tricks.

Take the scene where Coach D'Amato (Al Pacino) has his new star quarterback Willie Beamen (Jaime Foxx) at his home for lunch. It is an exchange between two gifted actors; Pacino in a subdued role as the older mentor (at least subdued for post-Scent of a Woman other words, he never resorts to screaming except on the football field when it's appropriate) and future Academy Award winner Foxx playing the prima-donna like a pigskin throwing Kanye West. The tension between the two characters is enough to keep us looking at the screen. Unfortunately, Stone undermines it all by cutting in clips of the chariot race in Ben-Hur between lines of dialogue to hammer home the point that football players are modern day "gladiators."

And if you miss it in that scene, no less than James Woods will TELL you that football players are gladiators who "will not live with shame" later. Charleton Heston himself even does a cameo as a football commissioner. I know you don't go into an Oliver Stone movie expecting subtlety and nuance, but come on...

I can see why Stone wants to pump up the volume on this film. It's hard to replicate the actual tension of a football game on film, and there are few sports stories that haven't been told before. Any Given Sunday's story is a pretty conventional one. The fictional Miami Sharks, a once great football team that had four years before won the "Pantheon Cup" (which I assume is this movie's version of the Super's amusing to watch the script dance around the usual licensed NFL hallmarks) is on a losing streak. In the opening scene, the Shark's shitty offensive line lets not only their star quarterback Cap Rooney (well played by Dennis Quaid) get injured, but also his replacement, leaving it to third string Willie "Steamin'" Beamen (insert gross "steamer" joke here...) to get the team to the playoffs.

Beamen turns out to be a diamond in the rough. Despite puking all over the astroturf everytime he gets on the field, the Sharks begin to win some games against the ridiculously named Chicago Rhinos etc. Beamen does improbable flips to get the ball into the end-zone and quickly becomes a fan favorite, replacing Rooney as the star of the team. Does it go to Beamen's head? Of course. His ego swells to gigantic heights. After his first win, he's already kicking his "good girlfriend" (Lela Rochon) out of his apartment, ignoring the coach's plays, and taping hilarious rap commercials for Met-Rx. I can only wonder if Jamie Foxx's current hip-hop CD is as gloriously bad as this...

Since this is an "Oliver Stone Film", of course there is stuff about drug use, players so banged up that the only way they can make it on the field is to be pumped full of cortizone, sleazy doctors, players fucking around on their wives, Reebok commercial deals, and backroom politics to extort new stadiums from the city etc. Stone takes his role as a chronicler of our times and a cinematic muckraker seriously (more seriously than the audience often) but in Any Given Sunday, he doesn't uncover anything about the world of professional sports that people don't already know and are willing to get outraged over. Still, as a filmmaker he is still superior to the Michael Bays, the Brett Ratners, and the McGs of Hollywood in that he can take his already familiar story and make it engaging. His style often chokes his substance, but never strangles it.

Any Given Sunday inverts the usual Stone dramatic structure of a son torn between two fathers (see Platoon; see Wall Street) by being a story of a father (the coach) being torn between two sons (Beamen and the injured Rooney.) Cap is obviously Pacino's favored son. As the John Elway-esque star quarterback, Cap is feeling the new flavor Beamen biting at his heels and wonders if maybe it's time to retire from football. The suggestion of this brings on a verbal tirade from his wife (played by Lauren Holly) who goes completely Lady Macbeth on him and insists he NOT quit football. This is of course after we've seen their huge house and seemingly idyllic family life, and makes the viewer what the bitch wants...a small island?

Oliver Stone often gets smacked with the misogynist label. While most of the complaints against him can seem like femnazi bleating, they may have a point with Any Given Sunday, where the majority of the female roles are either bitches, whores, or drunks. The lead bitch of the bunch is the team's owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz). She took over ownership of the team after her father died, and hasn't been able to have the same "beer and a handshake" relationship with Coach D'Amato that her father once had. "I don't drink beer," she states at one point, seemingly offended at the notion, which is odd since she's later drinking a beer in the skybox during a game. If she's a bitch though, at least she's a bitch that Stone at least takes the trouble of giving some quickly sketched "deep rooted psychological baggage", like that she's trying to be the son her father always wanted yadda-yadda. She's a bitch, but not entirely unsympathetic. Props are probably due to Cameron Diaz for at least being able to henpeck the God of Overactors Pacino convincingly.

Any Given Sunday has a huge cast and famous cast in the secondary roles, with everyone from LL Cool J to Ann Margaret popping up. Subplots swirl about, and even though the movie clocks in just shy of three hours, plenty of ideas get the short shift. The DVD is an "extended director's cut". While I did catch the movie in the theatres, the only scene I didn't notice in the theatrical version is a ridiculous and gruesome scene where a football player has their eyeball popped completely out of their skull during a game, to be picked up and bagged by doctors to (presumably) reattach it. It's an injury I doubt happens often in real-life football, if at all, and Stone would have been wise to leave it out of the "director's version" as well, maybe just make a deleted scene.

The hyper-active visuals of the football games themselves work well enough, though they might have been a bit more interesting if they knocked the style down a couple of notches and clearly showed what a pro-football game looks like from the players view. It would have still provided plenty of room for visual pyrotechnics while still making the game somewhat recognizable. And with all the ideas Stone plays with in the corruption of professional sports, you would have hoped he might have gone for a more cynical ending instead of the old cliche of "winning the big game." There's potential in Any Given Sunday's vision, unfortunately the moral of the story ends up being merely "There's no I in Team."

Any Given Sunday is one of Oliver Stone's lesser movies, but not his least. It does not lack for passion or bombast, but it does fumble in incorporating them into the film in a way that's logical and compelling. At the very least it shows a love for the sport that is endearing, even if its "football as war" analogies get strained in the end.


Blogger Ian Steaman said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

10:24 AM  
Blogger Ian Steaman said...

Maybe I'm imagining it because it's been a while since I originally saw the film, but I watched a download file version of AGS last night and I think a scene at a hospital where a player's son asks either Pacino or Woods if they're going to tell their obviously unfit to play any more due to chronic, injuries player he ends to wrap it career wise has been cut too. Am I right?

10:26 AM  

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