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Any Given Sunday (1999)


Football is as engrained in our society’s mores as deeply as war, family values, and politics — at least that’s what Oliver Stone would like you to believe. To back up this statement, Any Given Sunday analyzes the effects of a culture that elevates professional athletes and coaches to a plateau where they are immortalized as heroes of the common man. Stone’s football fairytale is a culmination of every anecdote, highlight, or soundbite you’ve ever seen associated with the pigskin, wrapped up in an aesthetically pleasing Christmas package, and sealed with a kiss from team owner Cameron Diaz. Stone aims to please, and he doesn’t miss a single cliché of the revered and scrutinized American athlete.

At its core, Any Given Sunday is the story of Miami Sharks coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino The Godfather, Dog Day Afternoon) and his two quarterbacks, Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx The Great White Hype, Booty Call) and Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid The Big Easy, Innerspace). The quarterback is the most vital position in the game. He is the team spokesperson and field chief, and he serves as a crucial link between coaches, administration, and players. When legendary two-time Pantheon Cup (aka: Super Bowl) champion Cap Bowman ruptures a disk after a bone crushing hit, coach Tony is left with Willie Beamen (Foxx), an athletic, yet untested QB. His team has lost four straight and appears to be plummeting in a downward spiral with the playoffs right around the corner. He’s got delusional team owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) and sports analyst Jack Rose (John McGinley, doing his best Jim Rome impersonation) breathing down his neck because of his outdated coaching style, and a team of players he’s losing control of.

When Willie Beaman turns out to be a phenom and his team makes the playoffs, Coach D’Amato must decide whether to stick with Cap, the battered yet savvy veteran, or turn the reigns over to the flamboyant prodigy, Beaman, who has been changing plays in the huddle, and is selfishly leaving the rest of the team out of his newfound success. In choosing, Coach D must analyze his place in the history of the game, the modern athlete versus the ghosts of the past, and the sacrifices he has made of family and friends in living up to the team motto, ‘Whatever it takes!’

If you’re even vaguely familiar with the Oliver Stone movie formula, you’ll know in advance that there will be about eight subplots going on at once. Lawrence Taylor, the NFL all-time sacks leader, is an aging linebacker faced with a nerve injury that could take his life, but he can’t collect his million dollar-signing bonus unless he continues to play. James Woods is Dr. Harvey Mandrake, a slimy team doctor with no compassion for the physical well being of his players, who will authorize or withhold the athletes from competition at the discretion of the team owner. Mathew Modine (The Blackout, Vision Quest) is his medical assistant, who attempts to act as a moral blockade for the corrupt Mandrake. Meanwhile, Ann-Margaret, the matriarch of the Pagniacci family, maintains that the pressures of owning a professional football team were responsible for killing her husband and the cause of her miserable existence. The intertwined side stories add much-needed volume to the basic theme of the coach and his quarterback controversy.

Oliver Stone unveils the Miami Sharks from all angles. The film goes inside the lives of the players: from the expensive women, to the drugs, to the seemingly endless flow of money, and into their volatile home lives. He plays the race card effectively by making references to the problem of all-white ownership in a sport that is dominated with black athletes. Yet his proclamation is not overly bold, because at the same time, he casts Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones as a color commentator. He also criticizes the media for its suffocating coverage and idolatry of the league’s players through his portrayal of pretentious sports personality Jack Rose.

The football scenes are accompanied with music and lighting reminiscent of a music video. A true fan may find some of the action scenes a little hard to swallow, but they’re fun to watch, even when they’re unbelievable. Also noteworthy is the fact that the coach would surely notice if a QB were changing plays in the huddle. For Pacino to have to find out from LL Cool J, his star running back, is preposterous. Just ask any football coach.

On the plus side, the enormous ensemble cast is fantastic and there are more cameos than I can count or make reference to. See if you can pick out some of the NFL greats yourself. Pacino is once again stunning and James Woods is like a chameleon putting on yet another credible performance, but Cameron Diaz’s act really takes the cake as a heartless owner caught up in the high stakes of a winning football team that’s losing money.

Overall, it’s a high-octane, testosterone-laden picture. If you like football, you’ll love this film.