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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
Any Given Sunday (1999)
2 Stars

Directed by Oliver Stone
Cast: Al Pacino, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, Aaron Eckhart, Ann-Margret, Matthew Modine, Lela Rochon, Lawrence Taylor, Lauren Holly, LL Cool J, John C. McGinley, James Karen, Elizabeth Berkley, Jim Brown, Charlton Heston.
1999 – 170 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for profanity, nudity, and mild violence).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 23, 1999.

Thus far, several reviews for "Any Given Sunday," Oliver Stone's fully charged ode to professional football, have stated that only those viewers who are fans of football will be able to enjoy it. Strange, then, that I think the exact opposite. Although I didn't like "Any Given Sunday" and I despise football, it is certainly one of the major pictures of its type that has a large chance to be enjoyed by several different sections of the adult population, whether they care for the sport or not. Stone does not dwell on the football-playing scenes and his rapid-fire editing is so quick that what is happening on the field is often nearly unintelligible. Taking a look at the politics that go on behind the lines, the picture is occasionally savvy and perceptive. But where it ultimately fails is in Stone's usual "everything-but-the-kitchen-sink" attitude. While this approach sometimes works to benefit one of his movies (1994's "Natural Born Killers"), it quickly grows tedious here, signaling not originality from the accomplished filmmaker, but clear pretentiousness.

A behind-the-scenes expose of a fictional team in the NFL, the Miami Sharks, Al Pacino headlines the marvelous, all-star cast as Tony D'Amato, the frustrated head coach of the team whose longtime career is beginning to crumble around him. For one, he is constantly disagreeing with the team's new manager, a determined young woman by the name of Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), who has recently acquired the team from her highly regarded father. Things fire up between the two when star quarterback Jack Rooney (Dennis Quaid) gets injured, and Christina wants him to be gotten rid of for good, and have talented hotshot rookie Willie Beaman (Jamie Foxx) take over. The Sharks are on a dismal losing streak and Christina, new to the profession, will stop at nothing to get positive results as the playoffs wind down, partially out of trying to please her deceased father, and also because she is quickly losing sight of the things that are most important in her life.

The no-holds-barred editing and cinematography, by Salvatore Totino, of "Any Given Sunday" wear out their welcome from the very first scene and the camera only intermittently stops long enough to capture a full scene. Striking and undoubtedly flashy, but also needlessly unnecessary, this style by Stone occasionally holds a purpose in his other films, but here, is only used to cover up what is basically a highly cliched and predictable sports movie. A 170-minute epic that could have been 120 minutes, the story is very thin, and there are so many characters that are so pointless to the story, they could easily have been cut completely out. Then there are other characters that do hold some sort of purpose, but screenwriters John Logan and Oliver Stone don't even appear to be making any attempt to develop and flesh them out, and their subplots are entirely dropped in midstream, not to be brought up again.

Consequently, the climactic big game is just about as conventional as they come, albeit with razzle-dazzle editing that makes each quarter of the game go by in two minutes each. If anything, those who aren't football fanatics can take ease in knowing Stone does not meddle on the actual game, much more preferring to center on what goes on after the action on the field is over. Entirely predictable from start to conclusion, only the final scene during the end credits divulges a surprising plot development.

If severely flawed on many levels (this is one of Oliver Stone's weakest films), the performances are the glue that keeps everything from fully self-destructing. Al Pacino is superior here than in the role he is currently getting more attention for, in Michael Mann's "The Insider," as he isn't playing a character quite as much like his usual persona.

Proving why I now firmly believe she is one of the most intelligent and talented actresses in their twenties, Cameron Diaz more than holds her own with Pacino in several head-on verbal battles with each other. As Christina Pagniacci, she is the type of woman who knows what she wants, but is still a little naive in her decisions, and it is the one character with an effective emotional arc. Diaz could have come off as a one-dimensional witch with a capital "B," but unlike the other throwaway roles, her's is the one that is most carefully handled.

In two wasted supporting turns, Lela Rochon and Elizabeth Berkley add much-needed flare and a human element into the story, as Willie's neglected girlfriend and a high-priced hooker that spends a night with Tony, respectively. Rochon is so likable and her character so nicely defined (under the circumstances) that it is a shame nothing more is done with her. Berkley, who has come a long way in her acting skills since her starring role in 1995's "Showgirls," is wonderfully charismatic and surprisingly involving, even in only two scenes.

All other actors are top-notch, as well, but sadly, are not given anything notable to do. Aaron Eckhart, Dennis Quaid, James Woods, Matthew Modine, Lauren Holly, Charlton Heston, even LL Cool J--they are all fine thespians who perform their roles just about as well as could possibly be expected, but are mostly headscratchers in the writing department.

"Any Given Sunday" is a fast-paced, entertaining drama that, little-by-little, grows problematic when you stop to think long enough about its specifics. Stone is an innovative director most of the time, but has hit a brick wall with his latest picture, trying to cover up its flaws with personal technical expertise and forgetting about the substance part of the equation. The problem is, the flash-cutting style of a Jerry Bruckheimer production (such as 1998's "Armageddon" and 1997's "Con Air") is something I have no patience for, and is especially distressing when you realize someone as intelligent in his craft as Stone has resorted to such desperate gimmickry.

©1999 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman