ANY GIVEN SUNDAY - Blu-ray review's hard to tell if Stone was making a serious sports movie here or a parody of a sports movie.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

"I firmly believe that any man's finest hour--his greatest fulfillment to all he holds that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle--victorious."
--Vince Lombardi

So goes the preface to "Any Given Sunday." No, Lombardi was not another General Patton. He wasn't even George C. Scott. He was a legendary football coach (1913-1970), who only sounded and acted like a combat general. And if you take your football as seriously as he did, maybe even confusing it with something like life and death, then this movie might be right up your alley, or goal post, or whatever. One thing's sure: Now that it's on Blu-ray, it may not only satisfy football fans, it may appeal to high-definition fans as well.

Be aware, however, that it's hard to tell most of the time if co-writer/director Oliver Stone was making a serious sports movie here or a parody of a sports movie. You be the judge.

Stone, forever bent on telling us everything we didn't already know about everything--like what really happened in Vietnam and who really killed John F. Kennedy and what the real stories are behind Wall Street financiers, rock stars, serial killers, U.S. Presidents, and ancient world conquerors --this time packs every stereotype and every cliché he can think of about football into one long, loud, hard-hitting, fast-paced, action-packed epic. I mean, if you don't like football, you're going to hate this film. If you do enjoy the game (and I count myself as one who does, having never missed a 49ers game in over four decades), you may still find the movie too noisy and drawn-out for your taste. Like its main character, coach Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino, who rants and rages better than anyone in the business), "Any Given Sunday" tries hard to cover all the ground, damning the game and glorifying it at the same time. Oliver Stone never thinks small.

The movie begins by putting viewers into the very heart of the game. For the first twenty minutes we see, hear, and feel the plays, the tackles, and the hits. More realistically than in any football movie before it, "Any Given Sunday" captures the physical essence of the game in all its fierce, bone-crushing ferocity. Forget about any grace, beauty, or polish the sport may sometimes exhibit; here it's all brute strength and muscle. This is no mere contest between high-paid, athletic entertainers; it's a war of titans. With a couple of more games in the middle of the film and a lengthy game sequence at the end, well over half the movie is devoted to hard-hitting game-play action. By the time this two-hour-and-twenty-seven-minute Director's Cut is through, it has left the audience dizzy and not a little exhausted.

Interestingly, Stone patterns the whole movie after a football game. On the field or off, it's a story about rivalries. If a character shows his or her face on the screen, you can be sure the character will be in conflict with somebody else before it's over. In fact, you can bet on it. The central character is D'Amato (Pacino), coach of the fictional Miami Sharks. He's in conflict with everyone--his quarterbacks, his team doctor, his team's owner, and himself. The first word out of his mouth when the film begins is a four-letter expletive. His second, third, and fourth words are like unto his first. He's a man for whom football is not just a passion, it's a life. He has no other. He's been the hard-drinking, pep-talking coach of the Sharks for thirty years; he appears to have no close friends; he lives in a huge, elaborate, very empty house; and he pays for his female companionship. He is loyal to his oldest players, loyal to the game, and loyal to the old-fashioned virtues of honor, tradition, teamwork, and the brotherhood of the sport.

The new owner wants to fire him.

Cameron Diaz plays the new team owner, a young woman named Christina Pagniacci. She is cold blooded and calculating, wanting only to make money by winning a championship. She has inherited the team from her father, for whom the sport was more than a moneymaking proposition. But to her, a winning season is all that counts, and Tony has lost four games in a row. She thinks he's a dinosaur. Not even her ditzy mother, played by Ann-Margaret, seems to like her, and the Commissioner of Football goes so far as to suggest that Christina would eat her young.

The starting quarterback is an old veteran, Jack "Cap" Rooney (Randy Quaid), who has taken too many hits to the head and is starting to feel the effects of too many concussions. He ought to step down, but like many athletes, he's too proud. He wants to retire a winner and is sure he has another couple of seasons in him. When he's knocked out of a game for good, he's forced to reconsider his position, even though his ambitious wife, Cindy (Lauren Holly), throws a tizzy fit at the suggestion of his quitting. Like almost everyone else in the story, she thinks only of the money and celebrity status they'll lose. San Francisco Bay Area football fans will see similarities between one of their own teams and the cinematic team's new female owner and its aging star quarterback with head injuries. The differences lie in the film's exaggerated, over-the-top, soap-opera melodrama.

As sometimes happens, the first and second-string quarterbacks get hurt, and the number-three man, Willie Beamer (Jamie Foxx) has to take over. He wins two games and everyone suddenly sees him as the future of the franchise. He gets his picture on the cover of magazines, and he makes a music video. Naturally, stardom goes to his head and he instantly becomes a cocky, arrogant know-it-all who refuses to follow the plays D'Amato calls. He loses his girlfriend, antagonizes his coaches, alienates his teammates, and pukes during every game.

Among the supporting actors, football hero Jim Brown stands out as an assistant coach. Unlike most of the one-dimensional personalities in the film, Brown combines raw strength and toughness with sensitivity and common sense. I'd liked to have seen more of him. James Woods appears as the obligatory unscrupulous team doctor who will do anything to keep his players going. We expect Woods typecast in these kind of slimy roles. His assistant is a noble, idealistic young physician played by clean-cut Matthew Modine. You foresee early on the friction developing there. LL Cool J plays the star running back, pissed off at the new quarterback for not letting him carry the ball enough. His stats are hurting and his endorsements are running out. Football great Lawrence Taylor plays "Shark," a linebacker who needs one more sack to reach a million-dollar incentive in his contract and is willing to risk his life to get it. Aaron Eckhart plays Nick Crozier, the new, whiz-kid offensive coordinator. John C. McGinley plays Jack Rose, an annoyingly obsequious sports reporter. And Oliver Stone and former Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer play broadcast-booth announcers. Then, the late Charlton Heston shows up in two parts. In one of the film's metaphoric references to ancient gladiatorial contests, we see him on TV in the chariot race from "Ben Hur," and after that he shows up as the Commissioner of Football. Appropriately, Heston many years ago played an aging quarterback being pressured by a young up-and-comer in the 1969 film "Number One."

Because this is an Oliver Stone film, it tries to do more than show us the excitement of the game. It must expose the game as well. The only trouble is, there is nothing much to expose that we don't already know from reading the newspapers. I mean, football is all about money and endorsements and winning at all costs, right? It's filled with spoiled, overpriced athletes, inflated egos, implicit racism, violence, wild parties, drugs, women, alcohol, fast cars, and the assistant tackling dummy's stainless-steel kitchen sink. "There are no atheists in foxholes," says the team chaplain with a straight face, emphasizing the game's presumed resemblance to war. It's a game of "intensity" says Christina.

Yeah, right. What else is new?

Like all sports pictures, the coach in "Any Given Sunday" gives several inspirational locker room speeches worthy of Knute Rockne (or Pat O'Brien), and the movie ends in the mandatory final, deciding play-off game. This may be the crusading Oliver Stone directing, but it's still just the movies.

The film's plot and characters may be hackneyed, but there's nothing wrong with the Blu-ray image or sound. They're championship caliber, starting with the screen's generous 2.40:1 ratio, transferred at 1080p to a dual-layer BD50 disc using a VC-1 encode. The picture quality is extremely vivid, fine grained, and well defined, with colors bright and exacting. There is reasonably sharp definition throughout and solid black levels to set off the hues, with only a few overly dark facial tones to detract from the lifelike imagery.

The English audio comes in regular Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby TrueHD 5.1. Choose TrueHD if you can. The sound is quite precise and especially well distributed throughout all the channels during game play, putting the viewer in the very middle of the action. With a strong dynamic thrust, you'll hear crowd noises, tackles, crunches, grunts, groans, even rain as though you were actually at the games. In terms of TrueHD vs. Dolby Digital, the lossless track is slightly smoother, rounding off some of the rougher edges of the Dolby Digital.

This Blu-ray edition of the film contains all of the bonus materials found on the Special Edition DVD set, plus some additional goodies. To begin with, there are a couple of audio commentaries, the first by director Oliver Stone and the second by co-star Jamie Foxx. Next is a twenty-seven-minute documentary, "Full Contact: The Making of Any Given Sunday," which in some ways is more entertaining than the film itself. After that, we find three Jamie Fox audition tapes, about seven minutes; fourteen deleted and extended scenes lasting over thirty-two minutes; a four-minute gag reel; an eight-minute outtakes montage; and a three-minute landscapes and outtakes montage.

Moving along, there are fourteen music-only tracks that you can play all at once or individually; an "Instant Replay" segment that provides direct access to ten of the film's harder-hitting football plays; a series of theatrical posters; a stills gallery; and three music videos: LL Cool J's "Shut 'Em Down" and Jamie Foxx's "Any Given Sunday" and "My Name Is Willie."

The extras conclude with forty-seven scene selections but no bookmarks; a widescreen theatrical trailer; a bonus digital copy disc, compatible with iTunes and Windows Media devices; English, French, Spanish, German, and Italian spoken languages; French, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, and Swedish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Parting Shots:
The best parts about "Any Given Sunday" are the hits. The second-best parts are the hits. Stone keeps his camera in motion at all times. But even this becomes excessive; after all, real games at least take commercial breaks. At one point we can't be sure if Stone is pulling our leg or not when one of his players loses an eye, literally. It's torn out and lies on the field until someone with an ice chest carts it away. If Stone had done the whole movie as a dark comedy, titled, say, "Natural Born Killer Footballers," it would have improved it. Take away the gritty warfare on the field, though, and you don't have much left.

On any given Sunday, a good, professional football team has the potential to win or lose. I'm sure that Oliver Stone, as a good, professional movie director, knows this feeling all too well. In any case, whether he was being serious or satiric, he probably won't have football to kick around any more.


Film Value