Starring: Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, Jamie Foxx, LL Cool J, Matthew Modine
Director: Oliver Stone
I suppose watching an American Football movie for most of us Europeans is akin to your average American Confederate sitting back with a bag of popcorn and enjoying “When Saturday Comes” with Sean Bean and Emily Lloyd. Ok, so that’s probably a little less likely. As far as realism goes, “Any Given Sunday” looks to be a fairly authentic representation of the pressures and politics behind one of the US biggest sides, the Miami Sharks, which sounds rather like a ficticious name.
Tony D’Amato (Pacino – “Heat”, “Scent of a Woman”, “The Insider”, “Devils Advocate”) is head coach of the Sharks and after a losing streak that reaches four games, finds himself under intense pressure, not least from owner Christina Paginacci. Christina has a hidden agenda – getting rid of the ageing D’Amato, moving the team to New York and improving on the legacy of her predecessor – her father. On the field, quarterback and best friend Jack ‘Cap’ Rooney (Quaid – “Frequency”, “Traffic”, “Dragonheart”, “Wyatt Earp”) is seriously injured and it is left to young rookie Willie Beamen (Foxx – “The Great White Hype”, “Truth About Cats and Dogs”, TVs “In Living Colour”) to carry the team out of their slump.
Beamen leads the team to a run of victories and into the lucrative play-offs, but he rubs everyone up the wrong way by changing D’Amatos plays in the huddle and succumbing to the inevitable media scramble that surrounds him. Team spirit is being torn apart and D’Armato feels powerless to stop it as Beamen is man-of-the-moment and the bigwigs at the Sharks insist that he plays on. With victory in the play-offs crucial to the team and indeed to D’Amato in his final season as head coach, he must make a decision whether to trust his instincts or give in to pressures from the board.
In fairness, the actual football scenes are pretty gripping and full of action. I’m no fan of American football but this stuff is good to watch. Stone gets the camera right in the thick of things and uses disconcerting swings and slow-motion shots to add a bit of tension when required. But “Any Given Sunday” is slow-paced and overall lacks much interest from a storyline perspective. The characterisations are stereotyped as you can get – the washed up coach, the head-strong female in charge, corrupt doctor who works closely with the keen junior. You know what to expect, and there are no surprises.
The most interesting facet of the storyline is the study of Willie Beamens rise to fame. When the youngster comes to prominence, he uses the opportunity to get across his controversial political views in the press and also cashes in with numerous promotional activities and even a rap video. Stone captures the character of Beamen from the raw rookie (he vomits on the field during his first game) to high-living socialite (he dumps his long-term girlfriend and dismisses D’Amato’s influence on his career).
But that’s about all there is to look forward to. The movie is about 30 minutes too long and frankly speaking it’s a chore to watch for the most part. In fact you start to wonder why you are still watching for the last hour or so. It’s stylish but lacks substance. The opposite of the game it portrays as it happens.