Reconsidering 'Any Given Sunday' (1999)
Thomas Britt takes a closer look at Stone’s all-star football flick.
Before the release of the 1999 football testosterone-fest Any Given Sunday, Oliver Stone had only released one or two films absent of controversy. Not only controversy, but also premature anger and protests before each film’s release. This, though, was a totally different monster. The only heated voices came from film fans accusing Stone of selling out. After all, his previous work wasn’t exactly 100 percent commercial friendly.
Any Given Sunday was. It turned out to be Stone’s highest grossing film since the Best Picture winning 1986 picture Platoon and his second highest grossing film ever. Released at the peak of the 1999 football season (December 22), the lengthy drama didn’t bring Stone back to the Oscars but did jumpstart the career of future Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx.
As third-string quarterback turned all pro “Steamin” Willie Beamen, Foxx stands toe-to-toe with Al Pacino and a drove of former real-life football stars. He moves fluidly, but carries the ball like a loaf of bread. He has a quick side step, but never appears physically threatening. Even his throwing motion looks proficient. Yet he still makes mistakes all inexperienced quarterbacks make. In short, Stone and his stars nail the essence of the game throughout Any Given Sunday.
Unfortunately, Stone’s quest to capture every facet of professional football doesn’t end with in-game accuracy. He goes after the business of football, too. Granted, that aspect of the game is a supple one, but following every cold-hearted decision made by an ever-angry Cameron Diaz as team owner Christina Pagniacci adds too many minutes to a lengthy picture. It doesn’t help that she’s the weakest character in a movie packed to the gills with them (watch for a cameo by Stone himself as a boozy color commentator).
All of these players fit into three overlapping central stories. The development of Beamen is one. The backdoor dealings of a slightly corrupt owner are two. The third is supposed to tie the other two together and almost pulls it off. Legendary head coach Tony D’Amato (Pacino) is stuck between the two worlds, and it’s his job to bring them together to form a winning team. For his a.m. schedule, he has to hear it in both ears from a furious front office frustrated with his lack of flair on the field. For his p.m. schedule, he needs to motivate a team to come together despite conflicting financial and personal incentives. He’s constantly juggling the two, but when we do get to see his free time it amounts to little real development.
Therein lies the real issue with an almost ideal film. All of these accurate inclusions pile up too quickly for Stone to properly develop the plethora of ideas stemming from each issue. Beamen’s development boils down to being a good teammate. Pagniacci’s greed is stemmed when she learns how to take a step back from the game. D’Amato is simply a coach. There’s no real flaw there. He just needs to find the right system to win, and he’ll be happy. Perhaps this is what Stone thinks of himself—he has no problem making a studio film as long as he can make it his way. I agree with the parallel to a point—Stone, unlike D’Amato needs a little less flair in his playbook.