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Any Given Sunday

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Any Given Sunday

Starring: Al Pacino, Dennis Quaid
Director: Oliver Stone
Rated: R
RunTime: 160 Minutes
Release Date: December 1999
Genres: Drama, Sports

*Also starring: James Woods, Ann Margret, Todd Bacile, Bill Bellamy, Elizabeth Berkley, Jim Brown, Cameron Diaz, Jamie Foxx

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

On any given Sunday during the football season, millions of American men will gather with their friends around the projection TV to watch their favorite gladiators get pummeled while their wives (by way of revenge) conspire to haul them to a screening of "Tumbleweeds." Picture the women gathering in the kitchen to play cards, asking one another, "Just what is it that these guys see in that game?" Who better to answer that question than Oliver Stone, the 53-year-old helmer who has made a career of charged, male- centered films, most being personal dramas and explorations of violence in the United States? If he tackled the varieties of corruption in a nearby land in his movie "Salvador," darned if he didn't do the same with iniquity in his own nation. Perhaps the Oliver Stone movie thematically closest to his new all-star blockbuster "Any Given Sunday," is his "Wall Street," which both lionized and condemned the 1980s passion for greed. With this contemporary take of pro football, Stone both exalts the game and the people responsible for putting together one of our national pastimes, and castigates those who have turned it into a business--its players more concerned about personal glory, contracts for commercials, and the elevation of individual fulfillment over team playing.

This time, instead of the foxholes of "Platoon" he gives us the furrows of the football stadium. Where he could have made a smashing, intelligent person's "Waterboy," giving us the inside scoop on the game and business of this great national sport, he goes overboard with garish camerawork, giving credence to the statement, "If the technology exists, it will be used." Though he shows respect for his audience by trusting us to sit still for two and three-quarters hours, you'd swear that Stone has been taken in by arguments that the American moviegoers are all part of the channel-surfing MTV generation, unable to focus on one scene for more than a minute at a time. He does indeed show us what goes on while the 80,000 spectators at a major game are munching their hot dogs and ogling the cheerleaders by cutting to the managers' area to eavesdrop on the conversations of the money people--and by cutting to just about anything else that can show off his photographic technique. Otherwise, we don't get to see more than two or three plays at a time. Why not simply use some of the generous 165 minutes he has been alloted to spend some real time on an extended series of plays? This could get us more involved in the chessboard strategies of the contest so that those not so familiar with football can gain a respect for the brainwork involved in staging complex strategies.

What, then, do we see and hear? Frequently, the sound system goes silent for a moment, then turns up to full volume as you hear the crunch of the men which inevitably follows the snapping of the pigskin. The athletes look fierce enough under their helmets, not unlike Robocop, so ferocious that you can believe they can kill you with a look or shame you with an obscene gesture or comment. After a while, though, our eyes glaze over as we get yet another close-up of these contemporary combatants, their eye shadow boldly standing out, their head gear rock solid and yet not invulnerable to the crush of the predators. Crunch, scrunch, mash, whiz, run, pass, fumble, leap. Stone sees the action as a rough, macho, modern ballet. Little feels human in the story and, in fact, an awful lot of the characters both on and off the field lack any semblance of compassion.

The principal conflict appears to be between the seasoned coach of the Miami Sharks, Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino) and the co-owner of the team who inherited the job from her father, Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz). Pagniacci is depicted as a take-no-prisoners woman, unlike her dad, interested only in winning and in gaining the funding needed to build a new and grander stadium for the Sharks. In other words, she wants to be taken seriously as a woman playing essentially a man's game. She does battle against the coach's ideal that what counts is teamwork, not personal glory. When D'Amato's third-string quarterback, Willie Beaman (Jamie Foxx), is called off the bench after hard hits knock out the 39-year-old first stringer, Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid) and the second-stringer, the conflict is drawn. Beaman, unlike Rooney, is in the game for the glory, for the perks like contracts for commercials, for the women. D'Amato is in the game for the game. Can the coach convince this man, who turns out to be his best player, to rethink his priorities?

Employing a script he developed with John Logan, Oliver Stone divides his ensemble into two groups. Dr. Harvey Mandrake (James Woods), an orthopedist willing to send the butchered gladiators back into the field conflicts with another physician, Dr. Allie Powers (Matthew Modine), who opts for keeping them alive. Vanessa Struthers (Lela Rochon), Beaman's girl friend who likes the man but has no love for football, has different ideas from Cap Rooney's wife Cindy (Lauren Holly), who, incredibly, slaps her man hard for wanting to give up the game, caring not a whit that the 39- year-old is pretty-much battered and washed up.

As Salvatore Totino's camera runs up and down the field, into the sheltered box seats of the champagne-drinking suits, over to the abrasive sports announcer Jack Rose (John C. McGinley), and, still hungry for more switches to black-and- white for shots from Coach D'Amato's past--including Vince Lombardi--the audience cannot be blamed for wondering whether Oliver Stone is not unlike Christina Pagniacci. He's in this for the business of pretentious moviemaking and not for the love of the game.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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