Oliver Stone is crazy. Maybe. At least it would appear so when you consider his last few films. No matter the subject matter, he increasingly manages to drag along an array of film styles and dizzying editing techniques in combination with his favorite themes of politics, corruption, and basic human morality. Whatever one thinks of his sometimes schizophrenic approach, Stoneís films usually warrant a DVD treasure due to the usually high production values and even higher acting caliber in front of his camera. He knows how to direct, period. His most recent effort, "Any Given Sunday", newly on DVD from Warner Home Video and coinciding with the beginning of the 2000 NFL Football season delivers not only in content, but on just about every other level as well.
A multi-character drama, part music video, part action film, "Any Given Sunday" centers around the Miami Sharks, the pro football team who won it all four years back and has been on a slump ever since. Veteran coach Tony DíAmato stands at a crossroads with four straight losses and an aging, injury-ridden star Quarterback (Dennis Quaid). Enter third-string Quarterback Willie Beaman (an excellent and surprising Jamie Foxx). Beaman proceeds to slowly bring the team back, but in the process throwing everyone involved into chaos: the incentive-based Running back (LL Cool J) with a game that doesnít mesh with the new QB, the team physician (James Woods) who isnít afraid to bend the rules in order to give the players what they think they need, and the team owner (Cameron Diaz), torn between the aging components of the team and money offers from elsewhere. The real surprise here is Foxx. Coming from television and several smaller-profile films, there would have been no way to predict how he would stand up in nose-to-nose scenes with a heavy hitter like Pacino. Yet he does, and we believe him as Beaman both in the showy comical bits as well as the emotional moments as he sees his only dream rise up and almost go in a flash. Incidentally, itís a role that for some reason belonged to rapper Sean "Puffy" Combs up until several days before shooting commenced. Itís impossible to see almost anyone in this role now, let alone "Puffy".
In an ensemble-piece such as this, the pace tends to slow, but Stone smartly uses his technical skill to keep us visually involved as we intercut from music videos, to commercials, to dramatic scenes, weaving throughout strong turns by minor characters: Stone favorite John C. McGinley, amusing as the "Jim Rome" style commentator, along with Ann Margaret as the alcoholic poodle-holding ownerís wife, Aaron Eckhart as the Offensive Coordinator struggling with the internally combative offense, Matthew Modine as the assistant physician who remains the moral compass, and Charlton Heston as the league Commissioner. All of these supporting characters (aside from an unbelievable Lauren Holly as Capís wife) add credibility to a tapestry that implies such people are warriors on as tough a field as the actual football players.
Just as in his "Nixon" and "JFK", Stone lays out the film as part multi-media presentation. An example: gladiator bits and chariot races snipped from "Ben-Hur" are intercut, along with sepia-toned films and photos of football greats from the past within key scenes, one between Foxxís Beaman and Pacinoís coach DíAmato. Strangely, the cuts lend a sense of heritage to the modern-day trials of these characters and the fictional football league (of which the NFL understandably did not wish to lend support due to content). While on the subject of content, you might want to be aware that there contains considerable drug use, profanity, and both female & male nudity (hide the children!), so this remains a film for mature viewers.
Visually, the film is arresting. The on-field football scenes carry a war-style intensity, something Stone has a vast experience with. The 2.35:1 anamorphic image is crystal clear and sharp. In selected scenes, some might be fooled into believing it to be high-contrast video as opposed to film. Which isnít a criticism. It is a very intense look, and the colors are bright and very well-defined. Though the intense action lends some blurring and (intentional) loss of focus, no pixelization is evident. Some have criticized the football action in "Any Given Sunday" for being too broken, cut, or not able to be made sense of in the context of logical football action. This seems to be precisely Stoneís point. When Beaman hits the field, WE are supposed to have that same feeling of disjointedness - of fear and not knowing what might be coming upon you. In that context, the action is perfect, we see only what we need to see, and that tension is palpable.
The Dolby Surround 5.1 sound envelopes the proceedings being as crisp and aggressive as any Iíve listened to. The aggressive approach to the soundtrack draws you in and effectively does anything to keep you there: hip-hop music, rock, the crunches of pads and bodies, grunts, crowd/fan noise, and low-frequency bass at key moments(a Stone trademark) all come out to the front of the mix at key times. The effects seem to be designed in a way to be out front at key moments to make the viewer feel immersed in the experience, and the "Any Given Sunday" sound mix does just that. The downside to this, though, is that I did have to adjust the volume down during periods of intense action and back up during lone dialogue scenes(which there happen to be only a few of without music or accompanying effects).
The packaging of "Any Given Sunday" labels this as the "Special Edition Directorís Cut". From seeing this in the theater some months ago, I donít recall much that differs from this DVD version. Iíll tell you what though, I donít remember an eyeball coming out of a playerís head, and I donít remember as much drug use. But hey, I could be wrong.
As for extras, the disc comes with the 26-minute documentary "Full Contact: The Making of Any Given Sunday". This is an "HBO First Look" production that stands far above most lightweight "featurettes" despite a relatively short length. Filmed during the making of the movie, it consists of the actors and players, most of whom were off-season pros playing real football with real hits for all on-camera scenes. Each of the major actors are interviewed candidly here, giving a real sense of the panic and excitement behind them on location as they shot.
Not satisfied with being a promotional, the documentary goes into the reasons behind what we see in the film with such topics as "Playing Hurt", "The Players", and "Texas Stadium" where all-hours football games were played in order to achieve all of the shots needed to complete the picture. It also thankfully goes into some explanation regarding the subplot of playing hurt and the ramifications to a team and his family if (or when) they were to be stopped from playing. This is one of few documentaries that increase the urgency of a story while increasing itís enjoyment with behind-the-scenes footage.
The original theatrical trailer is also included, and it looks just about as good as the actual film transfer. The music video for LL Cool Jís "Shut íEm Down" is included, and it looks & sounds great.(He seems to have alot of talent - maybe someday heíll be discovered.) As for a commentary by Stone, there is none. I almost expected it. Weíve heard audio commentaries by him before (with another on the way for the "Born on the Fourth of July" re-release), and it would have really completed the whole package to hear him explain some of his choices on this flick, but without it, the film & DVD still stand nicely on their own.
So, is Stone crazy? Probably not, I think. A somewhat schizophrenic approach was perfect for this material, showing that behind the heroism & idealism that goes into the mythos of American Football, there also lies the cruel underbelly of greed, politics, and mortality that the sofa-sitters donít see on any given Sunday. Warner has given us a great DVD of this feature from an important director whose work deserves a solid package like "Any Given Sunday".