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Professional Football Meets Its Match in Oliver Stone
I thought what a great combo for "Any Given Sunday" - Oliver Stone and professional football -- excess meets its match.
So I grabbed a chance to go to the movies with my sons. They got a lot more out of the first and third thirds of the movie that are football games, which I couldn't follow at all, knowing zilch about football so I missed any references to significances of plays and strategies and didn't recognize the zillion football players past and present in bit parts, but I got other visual and music references they didn't.
The football field is explicitly a jungle, with the sounds like an elephant herd crashing. Of course Stone never says or shows once what he can get across 5 times, so the jungle fever point of the primalness of sports as a venue for male violence is accompanied by Native American chants, aboriginal and Asian Indian mystic strains as well. I don't know enough about rap to judge those selections -- I could tell there were lots of lyrics about "niggaz" working for The Man type of thing.
The second third should have appealed to me as that's when the huge ensemble has personal interactions and we learn all their selfish, dastardly, unpleasant motivations, but I was on sensory overload. Example: Al Pacino as the Old Guard Coach calls in Jamie Foxx as the suddenly first string quarterback (in a terrific performance), for a tête a tête on the pro's of Jazz over Rap, as a metaphor of the old football of finesse (what? all those flashbacks to black & white football games were of a subtle sport?). But when Foxx walks in Pacino has "Ben Hur" playing on a wide-screen TV. As if we didn't get the point Foxx actually says "The old gladiators, huh?" If we still didn't get the point the conversation keeps intercutting with the chariot race. And if we still didn't get the point of any reference in the conversation to racial issues then intercuts to the galley slave scenes from "Ben Hur" THEN on top of that, the NFL commissioner who puts the Bitch Owner in her place for trying to play with the Big Old Guys is none other than Charlton Heston.
No one just has a conversation -- everyone shouts, usually at the same time, so I had to close my eyes and I'm not sure if I missed something.
This is Sunbelt Football of expansion teams where the sport is not a Fall/Winter season - so the women were everywhere in tank tops, cleavage, midriffs bare and hips swinging, even Cameron Diaz as the Bitch Owner. Though all the women are really high priced prostitutes (even usually sweet Lauren Holly is a hardened cold Football Wife).
What I don't think I missed was Stone's outsize determination to ignore the homo-erotic aspects of male sports violence that "Fight Club" reveled in. Aw come on Stone, not a single gay player in the closet? He crowds the behemoths into locker rooms and showers that can barely contain their bodies--but he's so afraid of showing them in contact that he even at one point has one throw a baby alligator into the shower so they scatter.
Everyone is criticized-- including the sportscasters, which Stone revels in playing one (I think in general this movie is a show down between Stone and Spike Lee as it takes on more racial issues than he's done in the past). What a coincidence that ESPN is continually bad-mouthed when there's a big legible credit at the end to Turner Sports Network when this is a Time Warner movie and ESPN's a competitor.
Stone of course goes out of his way to link football with war, to fit into his oeuvre, with battle quotes from Vince Lombardi and some sort of link with Pacino's father dying in WWII that was irrelevant it seemed to me.
I think this is Dennis Quaid's at least third football movie and in the genre of such movies as "North Dallas 40," "Longest Yard," "Great American Hero," etc. and this joins that pantheon as a terrific football movie.
The music selections were by Robbie Robertson (with Paul Kelly but I'm not sure which Kelly that is) and he did as seamless a job as he's done for Martin Scorcese. The music credits at the end were impossible to read -- in 3 columns of a vertical font that was like watching the credits on TV - plus the movie continues under the credits so all those who bolted missed the ending.
Professional football deserves to be Oliver Stoned. But if I never saw any more football that'll be fine with me.
(originally written 12/27/1999)
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