We gave it a B
”Any Given Sunday” is a vast and pummeling paradox — a kaleidoscopic bone crusher. The movie is edited like a disarming scissor-cut tackle, the visuals coming at you from every angle, with an ultraviolent slice-and-dice suddenness. For two hours and 40 minutes, Stone rubs your nose in the raw animal aggression of pro football, filling up the screen with the game’s potent destructive force.
This is hypercompetitive, cutthroat filmmaking, an attempt by the director to wipe away all previous football movies with the relentlessness of his vision, the fluent speed-metal kick of his brutality. ”Any Given Sunday” is jagged and alive. It has some bracingly authentic scenes set in locker rooms, groupie parties, and announcers’ booths, and it features a major performance by Jamie Foxx. Yet the film’s cumulative effect is as exhausting as it is exciting.
For Stone, the violence of pro football is a form of pure catharsis — the ultimate in cleansing primitivism. It’s the timeless spectacle of men pretending to be every bit as homicidal as, deep down, they really are. Here, though, it’s football itself that gets pounded and degraded. Stone reduces the sport to its bloody brute essence (tackling, ground war, wrecked bodies).
Stone’s patented image layering comes at us with far less precision than it did in “Natural Born Killers” or “Nixon,” but he must have been so jazzed by the prospect of filtering pro football through that style that he didn’t worry about the cliché-bogged script. The film presents us with an aging coach, Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino), who is still trying to lead the Miami Sharks, even though he’s been rendered a relic by the new era of ruthlessness, both on the field and off.
Tony spars, all too predictably, with the team’s shrill, yuppie-princess co-owner (Cameron Diaz, doing the worst acting of her career), but his big battle is with quarterback Willie Beamen (Foxx). Willie isn’t just a hotshot — he’s a new kind of player. He improvises, ignoring the playbook and even the coach’s instructions; he’s like a digital quarterback ruling a field that’s still analog. Before long, he becomes a star, an endorsement god, even a hip-hop idol.
Foxx inhabits a bravado that’s gripping in its icy power. Willie’s swagger blazes through all lies, including the coach’s, leaving only the residual ash of racial bitterness. The movie centers on Tony’s attempt to break Willie, to tame his insurrectionary ways and teach him the old-fashioned glory of football. But what is it, exactly, that Willie has to learn? He wins games. That’s all that matters; it’s all that mattered to Tony’s most celebrated role model, Vince Lombardi. In “Any Given Sunday,” Oliver Stone traps himself in a contradiction between two brands of sentimental machismo — the celebration of brutality for its own sake, and the old-school “teamwork” that the movie lionizes as victory, long after having demonstrated that it’s nothing but nostalgia.