Never let it be said that Oliver Stone is afraid to take chances -- at least, not while he's on his home turf. "Any Given Sunday," the lunatic director's latest paean to existential manliness, begins with an extended football-field sequence that would occupy the final reel of a more timid filmmaker's gridiron opus.
The big game we witness -- and which eats up at least 15 minutes of screen time -- is certainly an eventful one. Coach Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino) watches as both of his top quarterbacks are sidelined by calamitous injuries. He's forced to send in third-stringer Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), a nervous novice who's caught throwing up on camera by a sports channel minutes before he enters the fray. Against the odds, Beamen acquits himself honorably enough to make D'Amato wonder if ill winds are brewing for Jack "Cap" Rooney (Dennis Quaid), the sidelined starter whose position Beamen has suddenly threatened.
There's one problem: We don't know who these people are. Afforded no introduction to them before the whistle blows, we're unsure why we should be rooting for any of them to win a badminton tournament, let alone a football game.
Why should we care? Because it's Oliver Stone's mission to make us care about things of great import (i.e., things of great import to him). As "Any Given Sunday" progresses, we're shown -- in the broadest strokes possible -- that Cap's uncertain future is a symbol of the old age D'Amato feels breathing down his neck. His wife and kids are long gone, telltale signs of alcoholism have begun to present themselves, and he's increasingly at loggerheads with the team's general manager, Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz).
All of this is accompanied by frenetic camera pans and dollies and a soundtrack of pounding tunes by Today's Hottest Bands. It's the perfect Stone experience: an overblown American ritual made even more ludicrous by a neo-operatic treatment. It's also an unabashed revisitation of the director's favorite theme, that of a man who's gotta do what he's gotta do. (And the broads who get in the way.)
So why does it make for often thrilling viewing? Because for all his faults, Stone is a master craftsman. He knows just how to frame a shot, how to make explicatory dialogue exciting and how to get good performances out of actors at all skill levels. Foxx far exceeds expectations, and even Pacino is mildly interesting in a role that essentially has him play Al Pacino yet again. Hoo-hah.
Unfortunately, Stone is also still married to the idea that films must be endurance tests to be taken seriously. Just shy of three hours long, "Any Given Sunday" outstays its welcome, and its final third is a rehash of every clichéd notion the movie has already thrown at us. A man who spends as much time on pro football as he did on the JFK shooting is not one to be trusted on Sunday or any day of the week.
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