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
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.
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
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
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
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
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!
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.