After the passing of her father, Christina Pagniacci inherits and takes control of a football franchise, the Miami Sharks. Coached by Tony D’Amato, the Sharks come under hard times when one game leads to major injuries for both their starting quarterback (Jack ‘Cap’ Rooney) and backup quarterback. Third string, Willie Beamen, gets thrown into the game and is like a deer in headlights. Sparked by words from Coach Tony and after throwing up on the field, Willie starts to light it up with a new style of play but falls just short of victory. Over the next few weeks, Willie grabs the attention of the media and begins to alienate himself from the rest of the team. For Coach Tony, the battle to control his quarterback is only complicated by the pressure and control exhibit by Christina’s desire to succeed in a male-dominated business and misinformation provided from his medical staff. The battle ensues between the old guard and the young blood on the field, in the locker room and with the media.
Starring: Al Pacino (Tony D’Amato), Cameron Diaz (Christina Paginacci), Dennis Quaid (Jack ‘Cap’ Rooney), James Woods (Dr. Harvey Mandrake), Jamie Foxx (Willie Bearman), LL Cool J (Julian Washington), Matthew Modine (Dr. Ollie Powers), Jim Brown (Montezuma Monroe), Lawrence Taylor (Luther ‘Shark’ Lavay), Bill Bellamy (Jimmy Sanderson), Aaron Eckhart (Nick Crozier), Andrew Bryniarski (Patrick ‘Madman’ Kelly)
There is a rather all-star cast that bring to life on and off-the-field issues. Al Pacino leads the old guard who struggle to adjust with the changing aspects of the game. Throughout the film, Pacino’s refers to the way things used to be and his former relationship with Mr. Pagniacci. While he has a few scenes that take his character out of the context of the politics of football, he maintains a combination of stubbornness and wisdom as he works with the players and attempts to manage the influence of the new owner. Dennis Quaid is Pacino’s “golden boy” but also suffers from injuries that plague his ability to still be effective. While he initially struggles with his desire to get back on the field, the time out of the game takes a different toll on his psyche, resulting in Quaid’s portrayal of a man struggling with his age and priorities. LL Cool J (Julian Washington) plays a successful running back who combats with his focus on the offense and confrontational new quarterback. Though starting out shy and unconfident, Jamie Foxx’s character finds himself adopting the pattern of throwing up during a game to release his nerves and tension before beginning to take over the game. As his success increases, so does his ego, causing the team to turn on his arrogance. Helping to fuel the fire is Cameron Diaz, who quickly takes the role of the character to hate. While she is competing in a man’s world and struggles to be taken seriously, she treats the players as commodities and uses James Woods’s character (Dr. Harvey Mandrake) to manipulate Pacino, his coaching staff and the mayor into coercing a future for her team. Aaron Eckhart serves as the coach-in-waiting whose frustration is clear for feeling stuck behind the old guard. Providing a sense of levity and attitude, John C. McGinley is able to both play the loudmouth commentator and the aggressive critic of both Foxx and Pacino.
Oliver Stone’s hard-hitting football drama incorporates an interesting look beyond the field of play. While plenty of the film is on the field, the most integral moments happen between the characters in the locker room and outside of the stadium walls. D’Amato, Washington and Rooney represent the classic players whose success is starting to fade. D’Amato’s play-calling is tired and predictable. Washington plays the teamwork angle while very focused on his own payday and spotlight. Rooney’s age is catching up to him but so is his wisdom after years of playing the game. Willie Beamen is a wrench in the system for all three men. While he struggles originally, he uses bootlegs and broken plays to gain yards and spread the ball around, taking Washington out of the spotlight and forcing the media to look at Rooney as washed up. After getting over a little of his insecurities, Tony begins to open up to the young player but cannot let go of his vision of the way the game is played. When Christina calls him out for being unmotivated and unwilling to get the support of her late father to run the team, D’Amato is forced to come to terms with his position on the team and his ability to continue in the sport he loves. Even during glimpses of greatness from his veteran quarterback, he begins to realize the game is moving too fast.
This film highlights a significant number of ethical issues. The most significant challenge highlights the conflict between Harvey and the younger Dr. Ollie Powers (Matthew Modine). As the players are getting hurt, Ollie can clearly acknowledge the health risks of shooting them up with cortisone and would prefer to give them a chance to heal up or recommend they not reenter the game. Because of a seniority issue, Harvey is able to block Ollie’s recommendations and allow himself to succumb to the highlife of loose women and luxury. Harvey is willing to risk the players’ health for his own benefit and Ollie struggles to find a way to protect them and support their desire to stay on the field. For Tony, he has a young quarterback who is the hot thing in the world of sports but he has a soft spot for his veteran. With Cap recovering and looking able to play again, he struggles first with who to play and then whether Cap still has the drive to perform. With Christina, she places pressure as a controlling owner and Tony has to determine whether to give in to her demands to stick to his guns.
In regards to the imagery and cinematography, this film contains some busy camera motions and flashes between slow-motion and quick switches highlighting different elements in the same moment. Some of the game moments are frantic with flashes of the sideline, multiple mashups of players on the field an random shots of fans fighting or the cheerleaders during a routine. Other moment focus in on the pain experienced after a tackle or the disappointment after a turnover. While the varied speeds of the game provide a contrast of the game, some moments are disconnected when the flashes of non-football elements have no setup and no continuation. There is also a significant amount of unexpected nudity, whether in the locker room or in the bathrooms at parties. The vulgarity and seediness of the game is clearly highlighted alongside the drama of the players, coaches and owners.
Any Given Sunday is a raw portrayal of the drama of the game of football. While the camera work and transitions is a little frantic at times, the plot and character development is very entertaining.
Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5