Oliver Stone: Any Given Sunday (1999) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Oliver Stone: Any Given Sunday (1999)

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Oliver Stone gathers a host of his regulars for another genre film in Any Given Sunday.  This time Stone's wandering eye hits on sports films.  Here he shows the rise of Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), plucked from the third string by coach Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino) and seasoned for the greatest commercial effect by team owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz).Another lonely warriorAndrewCommentaryBannerWe've talked a lot about the mythical editor that could have ridden in on the metal rims of a Moviola to salvage some of these last few films.  I bring this up not because Any Given Sunday is bad, it's actually the first entertaining film he's made since JFK, but because it's bloated.  The run-time is nearly two and a half hours for a story that could have been a killer at an hour and forty or less.

I don't want to underwhelm the movie with half-hearted praise of a running time that could have been because we've done that way too much recently, so here's the good stuff.  Stone's style works surprisingly well for the physical impact of football.  We've seen how well he does more intangible ideas, like paranoia, but I was riveted by the on-field stuff in Any Given Sunday.  Considering the speed of each play it makes sense to have a wide-angle shot of the team, followed by quick cuts to each snap, then a shaky first person view, then back to a medium-shot of the coach, and finally a barely glimpsed impact before the camera wobbles end over end.  It's coherent, blistering editing really forces you to engage physically with the game in a way I don't think any other football film has.

Off the field there's a lot of good going on thanks to the performances.  I loved the performance by Stone favorite John C. McGinley in a delightfully fey turn as a sportscaster.  Then there's Al Pacino in full-on late '90s screaming mode but he's in the right environment for it.  Jamie Foxx is pretty good too in a role that helped bridge his earlier Booty Call days with the quiet, confident intensity that would fuel his run in Django Unchained.  Even Cameron Diaz is great, chewing up whatever scenery Pacino leaves over.

So there's a good bit for me to praise, but still leaves too much left over to criticize.  I liked that Stone at least tried to comment on the way that sports essentially makes slaves out of its participants even if the idea is pummeled in with images of Ben Hur whirring away in the background of more intense moments.  But it's the only real idea that Stone tries to develop off-field, and the rest of the screenplay is devoted to a lot of petty bickering and go-nowhere party scenes that seem like leftover ideas from The Doors that Stone decided to put into overdrive.

It's another genre exercise, one that seeks to entertain and not disgust or, mostly, enlighten - and it's all the better for it.  His time in the controversial spotlight has come to an end and despite the energy he actually seems more confident and relaxed with this film back to the point where he put himself in front of the camera again.  I can handle a B-picture at this point, even if everyone should be operating a grade higher.Just so you know where the priorities areKyle Commentary BannerI don't feel like it's a B-movie as much as it's a barely unsuccessful A-movie. I liked this more than I thought I would going into the first 20 minutes or so, despite thinking it ultimately a failure, and most of that is due to A.) the football scenes that, as you mentioned, are wonderfully chaotic and abrasive, and B.) the unexpected political undertones. On the second point: the movie sets itself up initially as being very boldly concerned with an in-your-face representation of contemporary sports culture, and I expected the social criticism to come exclusively from this approach—a typically blatant Oliver Stone screed against how sports peddle violence (à la Roman gladiators) under a flimsy cover of physical determination, hard work, and glory.

The early parts of the movie tend to border on what seem like interminable MTV-infused sports scenes, with little-to-no real characters to develop—but as the movie progresses Stone gives just enough screen time to the people (particularly Pacino and Foxx) to turn what appear at first to be lazily drawn archetypes into real people with real motivations. The most effective of these is Foxx, playing Willie Beaman, a third-string quarterback called on at the end of a game that leaves the first two options injured. Initially Beaman is presented as a diamond in the rough—an incredible discovered talent who transforms by movie magic into a superstar.

But there is a scene later, between Foxx and Pacino, that clarifies his back story, and in doing so launches into a surprisingly effective critique of racism in contemporary sports that not only explains his wildly changing personality, but also leverages the entire weight of the movie (and the before almost-pointless nature of the Bridges character) toward a compelling argument that Stone doesn't seem willing to develop further. It's moments like these, combined with the blunt way he approaches the business of commercial sports, that give the movie an actual edge—it's unfortunate that he dilutes them with too much in-game footage, many sub-plots the story doesn't have time for, and an almost hilariously pandering parade of cliches for an ending.

I have said this before with Stone, and you said it just now: there is a good movie in here somewhere. Cut out the fat and you'd have a film about a damaged, behind the times coach coming to an understanding with a marginalized, untrusting young man in a culture that doesn't seem to even realize the lengths to which it's exploiting him. The way he shoehorns in a happy ending is baffling.

Oliver Stone is tremendous with actors. As you mentioned, his primary flaw is overindulgence, the need of an editor—but why are we talking about it too much? At this point, it's as defining a characteristic as any other for him, and we have to take the good with the bad. In recent weeks—with exceptions—I'd have said my overarching feeling about most of his movies was that there are elements I really like hidden underneath a kind of Oliver Stone coat, which is like a clear coat, but made entirely of bullshit. Now it's more like finding awesome things amid the wreckage of a kid's messy room. He just can't help himself.Rare quiet

So, where's the controversy?

Tiny Andrew CommentaryIt's hard to prove a negative, and if you're going by science impossible.  So going by artistic standpoints I suppose it's only going to be controversial to a very specific crowd.  The standards of the late '90s were less puritanical than they are now, so even what little drug use and sex is in the way is of little controversy.


Tiny Kyle CommentaryStone seems to think his representation of “sports medicine” will stir some controversy. While the issue of brain damage following a professional sports career is getting much more acknowledgment than ever before, it's tough to see how a claim of “doctors employed by sports teams give the players drugs and look the other way with injuries” is especially controversial, unless you're a small, wide-eyed child admiring your football hero. Stone doesn't do enough to demystify these figures to earn any controversy.


Ready to play

How did Stone hit the zeitgeist this time?

Tiny Andrew CommentaryAs much as I hate to answer a question with a question, it feels right here. Has there ever been a time that we didn't pump our athletic representatives to be the most commercial and well endowed among us?  Nope.  If Stone is hitting a cultural norm that has existed pre-Greeks, then there's no zeitgeist here.


Tiny Kyle CommentaryI'm with you. The best I can muster is sports are always popular?



The perfect tool

That's fine, but is it any good?

Tiny Andrew CommentaryI liked it - but its cultural cache is limited to people really into football films and, once again, Oliver Stone completionists.  Unlike U Turn it's the kind of film I'd recommend someone to stop channel surfing to watch but can't say they should pay for otherwise.  It wasn't urgent viewing when it was released and is even less os now.

So, to finally answer that damn question, sure.

Tiny Kyle CommentaryI don't regret watching it, though I do regret—on a large, vicarious level—the soundtrack. Sometimes it works, but far too often it's oppressive and distracting. Stone does, however, have some fun with a fake music video Foxx's Beaman character records. This is in fun right? Stone is joking there? Right?

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Stone with text

Posted by Andrew

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