Any Given Sunday

"You ever hear of starting from scratch? This is scratch."

Any Given Sunday is loud, long and exhausting. If you suffer from migraine headaches stay away from this three hour pain inducer like the plague. (In)famously gimmicky auteur Oliver Stone (JFK, Nixon, Natural Born Killers) delivers a turbocharged beyond-feature-length montage filled to the brim with distracting camera tricks, an irritating hard rock score that never seems to stop and plenty of brutal, intermittently entertaining pro-football footage. The movie is supposed to be an NFL-as-life allegory and maybe it is, but any depth is lost in the midst of the rapid-fire, pseudo-stylized imagery.

Al Pacino stars as Tony D’Amato (that’s subtle, right there), an aging head-coach for the Miami Sharks, a once-great now-flailing NFL team. He’s in a battle for control with General Manager/Owner Christina Pagniacci (a spunky Cameron Diaz). A character gives the best description of Christina later in the film: “I honestly believe that woman would eat her own young.” Pagniacci ensists that Tony has gotten old; his intensity is gone. She advocates radical changes: getting rid of the aging veteran quarterback, who happens to be “like a son” to Tony; possibly moving the team if Miami doesn’t put out for a new stadium. She tries to tell Tony what to do and Tony isn’t very happy.

Enter Willie Beaman. After two of the Sharks’ quarterbacks are debilitatingly injured in a matter of minutes, this third-stringer is forced in the game. The first thing he does is throw up on the field: something that becomes a ritual when he becomes a star. In that debut game — he never saw a minute of action before it — he flailed at first but then got his act together and threw for two touchdowns. In subsequent games, he became the star of the team: a huge public role model and a remarkably efficient, though showy, player. There’s only one problem: he doesn’t read the playbook and he changes the plays Tony calls.

Meanwhile Dr. Harvey Mandrake (James Woods, in what is basically a bit part, though he has some great one-liners) has been putting players at risk by clearing them for play when they aren’t physically ready. Often, he did this at the direction of Christina, who, in her interest of breathing new life into this team, has tried to manipulate the Disabled List to suit her vision. When Tony finds out, all hell breaks loose.

Why did Stone take three hours to tell us this? Why did use deafening MTV-style montages as filler when his movie was long enough as it stood? Why did he insist on bombarding us with such blatantly in-your-face imagery? To these questions only Stone himself has the answers. I imagine Al Pacino just went along with Stone because he was given a chance at delivering some loud monologues — something Pacino lives for (see The Devil’s Advocate which, on second viewing, deserves *** and The Insider). Everyone else involved — God only knows. But someone should have objected.

The fact of the matter is that the story doesn’t hold up. It is literally battered to death by the movie’s slam-bang facade. The characters are lost in the midst of the chaos. Pacino’s Tony could have been a truly affecting screen presence but the camera tricks cancel him out: our attention is diverted from what’s important. It’s one thing to make a stylized, visually kinetic picture; to make a movie where the visuals destroy any chance of anything else working is a different thing entirely. It’s a bad thing.

Not everything in Any Given Sunday is a total failure. The realistic, brutal, up-close-and-personal football footage is quite entertaining and can make one reconsider the validity of the way games are shown on tv. Pacino never fails to entertain and his performance here is enjoyable, if nothing else. I liked the last 45 minutes of the movie, too. I just couldn’t help but think how much more I could have enjoyed those minutes if my head wasn’t throbbing from the last two hours.

-- Eugene Novikov

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