Unless I had some sort of personal connection associated with a certain game, my interest in football has mostly been minimal at best. That said, Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday has still held a unique place in my heart as a movie of certain first’s.
I remember seeing it in the theater at the ripe age of 12 with my dad, older brother, and grandpa. It was the first movie I would see for many of the actors (most notably Al Pacino), the first Oliver Stone movie, and (most of all), my first R rated movie in the theater. Looking back at the experience, what I remember most (aside from my dad essentially pay money for me to see a grown up movie which included swearing and sexuality) was the mood of down right intensity.
Fast forward over two decades later, and I realize the intensity has not dimmed. The story is also a lot clearer to me, although I do remember not being totally confused about football coach Tony D’Amato (Pacino), who is near the end of his career. The film starts off in one of the last few games of the season, his (fictional) Miami Sharks have lost their star QB Jack “Cap” Rooney (Dennis Quaid), and now resort to their third string quarterback Willie Beaman (a ridiculously young Jamie Foxx). After some time on the field, Willie becomes “Steamin” Beaman, despite not listening to the coach. This is exactly what Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), who is the relatively new owner of the team after her father’s death, is looking for. This is more than enough stress for D’Amato, who, while respected by Christina, does not see eye to eye with her.
Revisiting the film (for the first time since that fateful night as a preteen), I definitely did not realize the film had as many stars as it did. We are talking about Aaron Eckhart as the Shark’s offensive coordinator, James Woods (ever the slimeball master) as one of the team’s lead doctors, Matthew Modine as a more ethical team doctor, and roles for the likes of NFL greats like Lawrence Taylor and Jim Brown.
That does not take into account the amount of cameos. This includes (but is not limited to) the likes of the film’s director (as an announcer), Dick Butkus, Emmitt Smith, Terrell Owens, and Johnny Unitas. There is even Wilt Chamberlain (who died not long after the film was made), who I did not spot.
As a director, there is no doubting the talent of Stone. Here, some of his talents are put to good use, especially when you see him comparing football players to gladiators. This becomes especially meta when you see not only the classic Ben-Hur playing in the background, but also having Charlton Heston show up as the League’s commissioner.
Then there are moments that are too much, most notably all of the uses of Stone’s film editing turned up to eleven. These moments have been sublime in previous films of his (most notably JFK), but that is because they fit the mood and storytelling of it. Here, they seem to be just a little bit showing off.
Parents, in hind sight, I probably should not have seen this film at the age of 12. Sure, I had heard all the swear words by that time, but the sexuality and nudity most likely was something my dad did not know would occur. High School and above.
I am one of the very last people to ask if Any Given Sunday shows any truth about what happens in the world of professional football (I never even heard of hashmarks on the field until I was in High School Marching Band). Even so, it does not take much to see that riveting events in football can happen off the field as much as on.
One inch at a time.