Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: Any Given Sunday (1999)
Studio Line: Warner Bros. - Life is a contact sport.

Life is a contact sport and football is life when three-time Academy Award-winning filmmakers Oliver Stone and a dynamic acting ensemble explore the fortunes of the Miami Sharks in Any Given Sunday.

At the 50-yard line of this gridiron cosmos is Al Pacino as Tony D'Amato, the embattled Sharks coach facing a full-on blitz of team strife plus a new, marketing-savvy Sharks owner (Cameron Diaz) who's sure Tony is way too Old School. An injured quarterback (Dennis Quaid), a flashy, bull-headed QB (Jamie Foxx), a slithery team doctor (James Woods) and a running back with an incentive-laden contract (LL Cool J) also provide some of the stories that zigzag like diagrams in a playbook. And throughout, there's the awesome spectacle of motion, sound and action orchestrated into "Oliver Stone's most electrifying film in years. A dazzling spectacle" (Peter Travers, Rolling Stone).

Director: Oliver Stone
Cast: Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, Elizabeth Berkley, Lauren Holly, Lawrence Taylor, LL Cool J, Jamie Foxx, Matthew Modine, Charlton Heston, Ann Margaret
Box Office: Budget: $60 million. Opening Weekend: $13.584 million (2505 screens). Domestic Gross: $75.53 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35;1/16x9; audio English DD 5.1; subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 47 chapters; rated R; 157 min.; street date 9/5/00.
Supplements: Documentary "Full Contact: The Making Of Any Given Sunday"; LL Cool J "Shut 'Em Down" Music Video; Notes On The Stars And Director; Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists | Volume 2 soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: A/A-/C+

Why have there been no truly great football movies? After all, one would think there'd be a slew of entries in the category, and at least a few should have been classics. Not only is football the most popular sport in America, but it would seem to be easily translated to film; the game resembles a war and has so many opportunities for drama and suspense that the connection should be natural.

However, baseball has always been the cinematic winner, even though that sport's relatively slow pace and lack of visual panache should make it dull and lifeless on the big screen, but through fine films like Bull Durham and Field of Dreams, the opposite has proven true. It's hard to think of a good movie about the game, and most football-related offerings focus on college or football sports. In fact, as an essay found in this disc's DVD-ROM section states, it appears that the last major film to deal mainly with pro football was 1979's North Dallas Forty.

The last major film until 1999, that is, when Oliver Stone corrected the imbalance with his inconsistent but generally strong Any Given Sunday. Though Stone is known for his "issue-oriented" movies that generally aim at controversial subjects, AGS is the sight of him having some fun. While the story tries to be "hard-hitting" at times as it looks at some of pro football's abuses, it's really a very conventional tale of the old versus the new.

At the start of the movie, "Cap" Rooney (Dennis Quaid), the legendary but aging quarterback of the Miami Sharks, goes down with an injury. When his fairly-incompetent backup also gets hurt, third-string QB Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx) enters the game. He doesn't win the contest, but he shows sparks of talent, and after the second-string QB fails to ignite the offense during the next game, Beamen gets the nod and becomes a sensation.

The movie goes through a variety of subplots, but essentially it's about balancing respect for the old with recognition of the new. Inevitably, Rooney is hurt by the way he seems to be cast aside while Beamen lets his new-found fame go to his head. Stuck in the middle of this all is head coach Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino), another aging veteran who wonders if his best is behind him. His situation is complicated by the "win at all costs" pressure of team owner/general manager Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz); this young fire-brand wants to make a name for herself and provides an abrasive, unsentimental presence.

By the end of the film, most of the parties' stories wrap up with such heart-warming cleanliness that I thought Frank Capra stepped in to finish the movie. Really, though Stone uses very modern filmmaking techniques with his trademark quick-cutting and wide variety of visual styles, it's an old-fashioned tale. The vet gets to go out with self-respect intact, the kid learns humility and the value of playing as a team, and the coach receives renewed life and vitality through all the experiences. The bad are punished and everyone goes home happy.

AGS provides a very predictable story that is needlessly mucked up with too many subplots - it features an overabundance of characters - but I still liked it in the long run. My lack of affection for Stone has been documented; I thought his highly-acclaimed Platoon was nothing special, and I openly loathe his manipulations in JFK. However, AGS works mainly because Stone isn't excessively concerned with reinventing the wheel. The subject matter is nothing new, and while Stone's hyperactive visual style provides some semi-fresh kicks, I never felt like any form of innovation occurred here.

And I didn't care. Very few movies come across as something unique or original, so what becomes most important is how well the tales are told. AGS is a highly-professional and entertaining effort that could drag at times but remained largely exciting and compelling throughout its 157-minute running time. Stone hasn't created a classic but I think it's one of his more consistent and enjoyable works.

The solid cast certainly helps. Pacino remains in his usual "hoo-hah" mode, but for all his bluster, he still is a strong, engaging presence. Foxx effectively portrays the variety of emotions Beamen experiences, and Quaid makes for a believable pro.

Surprisingly, however, I thought Diaz did the best work of the bunch. It's almost impossible to think of another "babe actress" who could handle a role like this without appearing absurdly out of place, but Diaz proves her acting chops as she stands up to the big boys and seems completely solid. She gets an unsympathetic character and makes her live and breathe during somewhat limited screen time. I won't say her performance is a revelation, but it shows she can easily take on roles beyond her usual comedic milieu.

I do have a few miscellaneous complaints about AGS. Because the NFL wouldn't extend support for the film - too many controversial subjects like drug use - the movie creates its own league, the AFFA. I don't recall hearing the acronym explained in the film; an article called it the "Association of Football Franchises of America", but I'd like to think of it as the "American Fantasy Football Association".

While I understand the need to create this fictional league, Stone makes one major misstep when a character refers to the NFL's Dolphins. This touch of realism actually makes the story less believable. If the AFFA was offered as a fake version of the NFL, I could accept it; I'd understand the need for the fictional teams and would simply regard the AFFA as an alternate universe's NFL.

However, since the film's world also includes the NFL, that makes it more difficult for me to accept the AFFA. Had it been represented as a fledgling league, I could have believed it, but the movie leads us to view the AFFA as an equivalent of the NFL, with a similarly-glorious and lengthy history.

I can't make that leap. While I don't think this stretch of reality made it impossible or even difficult for me to enjoy AGS, it did affect my suspension of disbelief. The introduction of the NFL caused me to be more critical of other aspects of the film's factual basis, and this took me out of the story at times.

Which leads me to my second criticism of AGS. If you watch this DVD's documentary program, you'll hear Stone and others discuss their absolute devotion to realism. Then why did the movie feature so many dopey mistakes? Scoreboards credit extra points before they occur. A player refers to how it feels to have eleven guys stare back at him in a huddle; unless he has an out of body experience, he only has ten people facing him in a huddle. A player gets a monetary bonus for reaching certain statistical levels; however, he doesn't get to that point until the playoffs, and stats don't count toward regular season totals at that time.

There are also some continuity errors related to scoreboards, but I won't worry too much about those, as they may have reflected changes in the production. However, I found the other various mistakes to disrupt my involvement in the story. I recognize personal inconsistencies in this regard; Chariots of Fire could have staged the Olympics on Mars for all I cared, but if a sports movie makes a tiny mistake, it drives me nuts. Anyway, none of these errors are huge, but they created small fissures in the overall impact of the story and made it harder for me to accept the film's world.

The DVD:

Any Given Sunday appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. If the picture suffers from any serious flaws, they escaped me; I found the movie to present an absolutely terrific visual experience.

Sharpness seemed very crisp and well-defined. Any softness or haziness was either intentional or part of the wide variety of source materials; no focus issues appeared due to other concerns. Between Pacino's wrinkly forehead and a few striped shirts, I saw a few examples of moiré effects, but nothing significant, and artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV were fairly minimal. Print flaws appeared completely absent; other than during some of the aforementioned intentionally-problematic footage, I detected no signs of grain, scratches, hairs, speckles, nicks, tears or grit.

Colors were solid and accurate and often appeared wonderfully vivid. Stone used a rather varied palette throughout all of his stylistic changes, and the hues always seemed clear and rich. Black levels looked deep and true, and shadow detail proved appropriately clear without any excessive heaviness. A big-budget film that hit screens less than a year ago should look fantastic, and Any Given Sunday lived up to those expectations.

Nearly as strong was the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. The mix provided a wonderfully immersive sonic experience that helped translate the violent action of the game to the home theater environment. Although the forward channels offered the most distinct audio, I can't say that they dominated the affair because the entire five-speaker spectrum is so active. While the surrounds mainly bolster the front channels, they do so tremendously strongly, and they also contribute a large amount of unique audio. Ultimately it's a very involving mix that engulfs you with loudly overstated football effects and a combination of aggressive rap and rock music; AGS offers possibly the most active soundtrack I've heard for a movie that doesn't involve war, disasters, or science fiction motifs.

Quality generally appeared very positive as well. Due to Stone's style, some dialogue got lost in the mix, but I felt certain this was intentional. Overall, speech sounded crisp and fairly natural, with no issues related to intelligibility. Effects were quite distinct and they packed a serious punch - literally. Whether the exaggerated crunch of the tackles, the roar of the crowd, or the sound of a buzz saw destroying a car, all of these aspects of AGS seemed clear and lacked any signs of distortion. Music appeared very bright and dynamic as well, with clean highs and solid bass. Actually, the whole mix boasted some excellent low end; if you're lucky enough to have a subwoofer, it'll get a nice workout during this movie.

Considering all of the praise I heaped on this soundtrack, you may wonder why it received only an "A-". There were two reasons for the slight subtraction of "points" from what should have been an "A". First, I thought the audio betrayed a slightly metallic quality at times. Most of the track sounded natural and warm, but occasionally I thought it appeared mildly harsh.

I also detected what seemed to be some bleeding of dialogue on one occasion. During Pacino's locker room speech in Chapter 5, his voice seeps into both the right and left speakers as well as the center channel. At first I thought this may have been intentional, though it seemed strange; I found the effect distracting. However, since I never heard any similar bleeding during other similar scenes, I have to believe something else occurred. Frankly, neither this nor the mildly-metallic audio are a big deal, but they were significant enough to merit a minor reduction in my audio grade.

The DVD of Any Given Sunday includes some extras, the first of which actually concerns the version of the film itself. We get the "special edition director's cut" here, but don't look to me for a clear answer on how it differs from the original. I searched the Net to find a credible source of the theatrical version's running time, but the only answer I found came from IMDB, which states that cut lasted 162 minutes - that's five minutes longer than the one we find here!

Since that answer must be incorrect, I think the actual theatrical running time is probably 152 minutes. I saw the movie on the big screen and while I noticed a few minor additions, there's nothing very substantial. As such, a five-minute increase feels about right. (In the category of "bizarre", I checked out reviews from the Washington Post to see how long they said the movie lasted. One opined 162 minutes, while another said 180 minutes! Freaky!)

Other than the extra five minutes of so of footage integrated into the movie, the main supplement found on this DVD is a 27-minute and five-second documentary called Full Contact: The Making of Any Given Sunday. While largely promotional in nature - it's the kind of show you'd see on a cable channel in between movies - I thought the program provided a decent look at the film. We find interviews with both crew and cast plus some nice shots from the set and a plethora of movie clips. Stones blathers too much - such as his silly comment that after we see the kinetic visual style of AGS, we'll never be able to watch a three-hour football game again (I'm watching one right now - go Skins!) - but I still enjoyed the documentary and thought it added to my enjoyment of the film.

The remainder of the extras are less significant. In the Cast and Crew section, we get filmographies for Stone and actors Pacino, Diaz, Quaid, Foxx, and James Woods; not even any rudimentary biographical data appears. The movie's theatrical trailer also can be found, plus a music video for LL Cool J's "Shut 'Em Down". The piece is mildly interesting but sticks to the usual lip-synch/movie clip formula and offers nothing special.

Any Given Sunday includes a few DVD-ROM features. Most significant is the "Scoreboard" area, which offers two major pieces. There's "Touchdowns and Fumbles: Football Films Through the Decades", a decent little essay that provides a short but satisfying overview of the history of football in the movies.

The other section of the "Scoreboard" provides links to articles about AGS. If you enter this area, you'll find a collection of 15 newspaper and magazine pieces. Some are reviews of the film whereas some are features about it.

That ends the compelling DVD-ROM features. The "Special Online Events" links to the Warner Bros. Video web page. I found no mention of AGS on this site. Other links include ones to the WB Studio Store, WB Home Video, and WB Online. There's also a "DVD Sampler" which simply lists a slew of WB titles and mentions their features; no trailers or other bits seem evident. Finally, "Sound Hits" shows the track listing for the film's soundtrack and links to the Atlantic Records site, where they'll be happy to sell it to you.

Like all of Oliver Stone's movies, Any Given Sunday is inconsistent and has a variety of flaws. However, it remains an interesting and generally fun film that provides a compelling look at America's favorite sport. The DVD offers absolutely terrific picture and sound plus some minor but decent extras. Fans of either Stone or football should enjoy this DVD.

Footnote: A 2-disc set of Any Given Sunday with additional supplemental materials is available as part of the Oliver Stone Collection sets released on 01/06/01.

To rate this movie, go to ANY GIVEN SUNDAY: Special Edition.


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