Super Bowl Special: Any Given Sunday
A legendary coach, quarterback, and lineman’s heads are on the chopping block. It’s a new era for professional football. Time has moved on and age is catching up on the old guard. There’s a new generation in town and they’re poised to change everything these legends know.
That’s the basic premise of Oliver Stone’s 1999 football drama Any Given Sunday. It could also be looked at as the story of Stone in the late 90’s. His streak of stellar output from 1986’s Platoon to 1991’s JFK was long gone and at this point his name just wasn’t enough to put audiences in seats. Any Given Sunday was a shot at cinematic redemption following the disappointing critical reception for U-Turn (1997) and box office returns for Nixon (1995). Luckily for Stone, his 1999 film was a box office hit, more than doubling its production budget in receipts. In return, Stone had a minor resurgence in Hollywood, one that was well deserved. Sure, since 1999, he’s been anything but an assured lock in terms of quality, releasing the critically reviled Alexander in 2004, and string of hit or miss pictures over the next 15 years. Only in 2016 with Snowden, has he really begun to be taken seriously again, now at the age of 70. All that aside, Any Given Sunday holds a special place in my heart. It’s one of my favorite Stone films and an revelation in terms of filmmaking.
While most people reserve the first Sunday of February/last Sunday of January every year to watch the Super Bowl, over the last few years I’ve made it a tradition to watch Any Given Sunday instead. Having long fallen out of love with the sport as it stands, I find much more enjoyment in watching the fictional Miami Sharks take on the Dallas Knights. Yes, I can tell your eyes are rolling because of the fake teams, but this is a film that was condemned by the National Football League for it’s portrayal of back office and locker room politics. Oliver Stone sought their consent, as he wanted to use real teams but the NFL balked and so Stone and co-writer John Logan (Gladiator, Skyfall) created the fictional Associated Football Franchises of America (AFFA) in order to tell their story.
Willie Beamen, the upstart quarterback that Jamie Foxx embodies could easily be any young football player of the time but there are clear real-life parallels in other characters on display. Dennis Quaid plays Jack ‘Cap’ Rooney, a veteran quarterback nearing the end of his career who is obviously based on Miami Dolphins’ legendary Dan Marino. At the time of production, Marino was reaching the end of his career and Quaid’s story in the film mirrors that. An older player still trying to hold on to the glory that keeps him going, Quaid plays the most relatable character in the picture, the one that audiences can really latch on to. Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor plays a close approximation of himself in the role of Luther ‘Shark’ Lavay, a hard hitting, drug using lineman with little to no regard for what he does on the field. He’s a beast, plain and simple, and Taylor brings a realistic grit to the proceedings, having gone through these same situations throughout his career.
Al Pacino brings the fire here, stealing every scene he’s in. Sharks head coach Tony D’Amato was a force to be reckoned with before the film’s start and much like his starting players, is starting to show his age. He just can’t connect with the young bucks like he used to, using dated terminology and worn motivational speeches in the locker room. Although the old guard respects what he’s doing, the new class has no time for his old-fashioned ways. Cameron Diaz plays the new owner of the Sharks and from the moment she comes on screen, you know she despises this man and everything he stands for. She’s in it for the money and is one of Stone’s stronger villains. Diaz would do well do play villains more often, proving here and in Ridely Scott’s The Counselor, that she can play these characters with relish. She’s absolutely devilish and a person you love to hate. Also behind the scenes, James Woods plays the team doctor, following all the orders given to him; drugging up players so they can play another game, win, and make Diaz money for her multi-million dollar team.
Using the same ‘vertical editing’ techniques he perfected in JFK and Nixon, Stone intersperses scenes with flashes of destruction and storms on the horizon. This enhances the drama at hand making what could be, in the hands of a lesser filmmaker, dull conversations into terrifying fireworks displays. Another great aspect is the soundtrack, featuring a who’s who of late-90’s hip-hop deep cuts. From Missy Elliot to Mobb Deep to Capone-N-Noreaga, it’s a flashback to a wild time in the music genre, a veritable jukebox of hits.
So if you’re like me and could really care less about the real life NFL and Super Bowl, I couldn’t recommend Any Given Sunday enough. It’s got everything a great sports story needs, high stakes, legends reaching the end of the line, and stellar performances. Throw in Oliver Stone’s trademark inventive techniques, and you’ve got a recipe for success on the field.