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Saturday, January 07, 2006 

Overlooked & Under-appreciated.

Any Given Sunday, 1999, dir: Oliver Stone

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Plot: Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino) has been the coach of the Miami Sharks for a very long time. Grappling with his own personal demons both on and off the field, the new rich bitch owner (Cameron Diaz), and now his newly immobilised quarterback (Dennis Quaid) being replaced by the juvenile Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx). While Beamen is more concerned with personal gain, he forces Tony to up his game.

Why I like it: I don't like playing sports. I've never been much good at them, nor can I find myself taking enthusiasm toward a particular one. What does interest me, though -and what this film realises so beautifully- is why people play sports. Any Given Sunday is admittedly an easy film to dismiss on paper: yet another feel-good case of underdogs against the odds. Thankfully, Stone manages to dispel this notion from the off, affording not only his characters but also his story an impersonal yet sincere depth and richness which subverts Sunday from a simple morality tale to touchingly-rendered universal story for all to exalt.

Stone manages to switch between the poignant and besmeared in equal measure, and this why the movie comes off so overwhelming enjoyable. The sub-text is allowed to shine through without the usual political intensity of Stone's earlier work. It's not that he's not emotionally invested in the story (he even cameos as an impassioned commentator), we're just allowed to have more fun this time round, and the result is an easier immersion into the fictitious world of the Miami Sharks. There's much to cherish here, not least Pacino's endearing performance as the bedraggled D'Amato which is simply astounding. The man is so good at delivery it sends shivers to the spine. Cameron Diaz may fall flat occasionally but otherwise this is an convincing ensemble (James Woods is still underused though) and Stone juggles each of their separate stories with a dizzying array of stylistic techniques.

It's easy and hard to see how something so finely-tuned can slip from public consciousness after only seven years. On the one hand, 1999 was an uncommonly strong year for American cinema: The Matrix, Fight Club, Magnolia and Galaxy Quest to name but four. On the other this is the best kind of cinema; the kind that beats the shit out of you then leaves you for dead. Despite moments of self-indulgence and a seemingly messy appearance Any Given Sunday is, at its heart a simple tale of 'gladiators' elevated to levels of true sentiment. And I'm still trying to figure out why it had such an effect on me. Maybe it's the unassuming nature of the storytelling, Stone's vibrant wall-to-wall soundtracking and brilliant editing distracting for the moments when Pacino can sidesweep you with his 'inches' speech or a naked man can suddenly appear in frame.

Wasn't it Stone himself who said "Nothing exceeds like excess."?

Amen to that.

See if you like: Friday Night Lights, Crash (2004), Heat

I honestly believe that woman would eat her own young.

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