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Film Review: 'Any Given Sunday'

Film Review: 'Any Given Sunday'
Oliver Stone is one of the movies' foremost portrayers of warfare, so it's only logical he should turn his attention to those gladiators of sports, professional football players. "Any Given Sunday" is the result, a film loaded with cynicism and choking on overbearing imagery that nevertheless winds up buying into many of the myths surrounding the sport. Of two minds about nearly every issue the film tackles anyway, Stone further lets his point of view get smothered in high-impact action and turbocharged editing.

Jocks and sports-minded guys appear the most logical audience for "Any Given Sunday", but even they can't be blamed for recoiling from the visual assault. Starring Al Pacino, Cameron Diaz and a host of name actors and such ex-football greats as Jim Brown and Lawrence Taylor, "Any Given Sunday" can expect a strong first quarter. But as the clock winds down, the crowd may well have dwindled.

The film joins the fictional Miami Sharks at midseason, just as an injury to star quarterback "Cap" Rooney (Dennis Quaid) threatens their playoff hopes. The team's surprising savior is Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), a third-string quarterback with a propensity for upchucking his lunch during games. Willie throws a few touchdowns, wins a couple of games and, as this movie has it, attains instant celebrity as the star of music videos and a national magazine cover boy.

The issue of who will start once Cap recovers from his injury becomes a running battle between longtime head coach Tony D'Amato (Pacino) and ruthless team owner Christina Pagniacci (Diaz), who, after inheriting the team from her dad, is determined to run it with unsentimental eyes focused on the bottom line.

Along the way, issues get raised about race, ego, sports medicine, college recruiting, media overkill, female groupies, performance clauses in players' contracts and bitter divisions within the team itself. That modern-day sports suffers from these and other problems is no great surprise. But that one poor team would experience all of these problems in less than half a season is a stretch.

And Stone, acting like he has uncovered a huge conspiracy, hammers home these points with all the subtlety of a power tool. Then, in case any soul in the audience doesn't understand, Stone gives us boozy conversations between the coach and his defensive coordinator (Brown) about the old days and the new ways they so disapprove of.

There is no area of professional football where Stone and his fellow writers, John Logan and Daniel Pyne, do not see money-hungry, ego-gratifying misbehavior. Yet at the film's heart-pounding climax, as the Sharks drive for a potential game-winning touchdown in the playoffs, the film buys into all the boyhood legends: the Knute Rockne-like locker-room speech, the hoary cliches about being a man and the importance of team spirit.

The film's best moments take place in the trenches, as sweating, bloodied men pound each other's bodies over a few yards of ground. Stone amps up the sound effects until the viewer can almost feel the brutal, bone-jarring hits. But even here the law of diminishing returns kicks in as seemingly half of the film's 160 minutes is devoted to gridiron warfare.

But for all this surface flash, the film never digs deeply into its characters. Insights belong to freshman psychology: Tony is driven by the early loss of a father; Willie never got to be a son to his dad; Christina strives to be the son her father never got.

And the minute you lays eyes on James Woods' Dr. Feelgood team orthopedist or Matthew Modine's sensitive internist or Lawrence Taylor's hard-nosed linebacker determined to pad his statistics, you know who these people are, and nothing ever changes nor is more revealed beyond first impressions.

Salvatore Totino's cinematography and Victor Kempster's production design are eye-catching. But in the end, it's too much of a good thing.

Film review: 'U-Turn'

Oliver Stone has turned around with "U-Turn", a dicey noir that careens wild and tight like a good old-fashioned B movie. It's snub-nosed Stone, a raucous entertainment that doesn't aim for the philosophical or political fences. Laced with a dark, absurdist sensibility, the film will debut this weekend at Telluride and likely delight festivalgoers with its brash economy and raunchy swagger.

More akin to "After Hours" and "Choose Me" in its surreal mesh of genres and bizarre humor, "U-Turn" is wicked amusement. In tone and telling, it's most akin to the filmmaking of Luis Bunuel, rife with undercurrents of degeneracy and human avarice and crested with outrageous humor. Movie buffs in particular will savor "U-Turn", especially for Sean Penn's rascally lead performances as well as the deliriously apt performances of such others as Jennifer Lopez and Billy Bob Thornton.

In chassis and structure, the story is, basically an old-time Western as a mysterious stranger rides into a sleepy desert town. In this case, the chap is Bobby (Penn), not astride a horse but tooling smooth in his 1964 + red Mustang -- that is, until it blows a hose and he's beholden to the local blacksmith, er, mechanic to get it fixed.

The grease monkey (Thornton) is a strange bird, golden-teethed and downright screwy; to boot, he knows he's got Bobby over a barrel. It's gonna take awhile, and it's gonna be expensive.

Bobby has time to kill, an unwelcome respite since the Vegas loan shark he's in hock to has threatened to kill him if he doesn't show up with his gambling debut; natch, he doesn't have the dough. When he wanders into town, he encounters a dirt-crazy bunch of yokels and it doesn't take him long to get butt-deep in hot water.

The trouble comes in the beauteous form of the local femme fatale, Grace (Jennifer Lopez). She's a sizzler and it's downright obvious that her sexuality is her Trump Card, and she has her geezer of a hubby (Nick Nolte) whipped into a dither with paranoid jealousy. Right away, Bobby is in the thick of things in this parched little outpost.

Crackling with juicy dialogue and ambling up all the right, wrong roads, John Ridley's screenplay is a smartly lubricated blend of genre parts. It keeps us on our heels and more than a little on-edge in where it's going -- in short, darn good storytelling. Although no one has ever accused Stone of having a light, comic touch, it's obvious he has a bizarre sense of irony and has forged here a crisp and wickedly funny entertainment. There is beneath its raw trappings, however, a deeper tale -- how far will a basically honest and decent person go when backed up against a wall, or trapped in a stifling dust bowl of a town? As you would guess in a Stone movie, they go to the limit -- or just past.

What makes "U-Turn" special, though, is the characters, as sidewinding a bunch of varmints as you would ever want to encounter. As Bobby, our touchstone character, Penn is terrific. Rough-edged, sympathetic and cunning, all at once. As the squirrelly auto mechanic, Thornton is hilarious and scary all at once, while Nolte is perfect as the young beauty's bedeviled husband. Jon Voight does an eerie turn as a blind man. But it's Lopez's wickedly wenchy performance as the femme fatale that is the lynchpin for all the craziness and all the conflicts: It's her sexuality, we see, that sets off all the explosions in this twisted little town. In short, there is great casting, a credit to casting director Mary Vernieu.

Technically, "U-Turn" is superb, as cinematographer Robert Richardson's acidic, parched hues clue us to the inner roilings of the characters, while Victor Kempster's smart, off-center production design is aptly both odd and scary.

Similarly, the herky-jerky, jump-cut punctuation is perfect. Hats off to editors Hank Corwin and Thomas J. Nordberg for the crafty cadence. As an added bonus, composer Ennio Morricone orchestrated the sounds for this spaghetti-based Southwestern. Properly, the music is more toned to the bad and the ugly than the good.

U-TURN

Sony Releasing

TriStar Pictures

Phoenix Pictures presents

an Illusion Entertainment Group production

in association with Clyde Is Hungry Films

An Oliver Stone movie

Producers Dan Halsted, Clayton Townsend

Director Oliver Stone

Screenwriter John Ridley

Based on "Stray Dogs" by John Ridley

Executive producer John Ridley

Director of photography Robert Richardson

Production designer Victor Kempster

Editors Hank Corwin, Thomas J. Nordberg

Executive music producer Budd Carr

Music Ennio Morricone

Costume designer Beatrix Aruna Pasztor

Co-producer Richard Rutowski

Casting Mary Vernieu

Sound mixer Gary Alper

Color/stereo

Cast:

Bobby Cooper Sean Penn

Darrell Billy Bob Thornton

Blind Man Jon Voight

Grace McKenna Jennifer Lopez

Sheriff Potter Powers Boothe

Jake McKenna Nick Nolte

Ed Bo Hopkins

Flo Julie Hagerty

Toby N. Tucker Joaquin Phoenix

Running time -- 125 minutes

MPAA rating: R

See also

Credited With | External Sites