Embattled Sharks coach Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino) faces a full-on blitz of team strife plus a new, marketing-savvy owner (Cameron Diaz) who's convinced the aging Tony is out of his league. An injured quarterback (Dennis Quaid), a flashy, bull-headed backup QB (Jamie Foxx), a slithery team doctor (James Woods) and a running back with an incentive-laden contract (LL Cool J) provide some of the stories that zigzag like diagrams in a playbook.
"Life is a game of inches."
If Oliver Stone seemed an unlikely choice to direct a sports movie, consider that no modern filmmaker is more fascinated with warfare, politics and the pervasive influence of corporate culture in American society. Professional football encompasses all those themes. In 'Any Given Sunday', Stone isn't much interested in the usual sports picture formula drivel about an underdog team risking it all for a big comeback. He treats the subject more like one of his war or political epics. This is an examination of American values as seen through the lens of professional sports, both on and off the field.
The movie runs almost three hours long and features a huge cast with a multitude of storylines. Dennis Quaid is the aging quarterback of the fictional Miami Sharks – clearly past his prime, sidelined with a back injury early in the season and desperate to rush his recovery to get back in time for the playoffs at all costs. Jamie Foxx is the third-string replacement who becomes an overnight star and falls victim to his own hype. Al Pacino is the coach who likes to yell a lot and give inspirational speeches during the game, only to deal with a drinking problem and relationship issues at home. James Woods is the team doctor, a little too liberal with his prescriptions. Cameron Diaz is the team owner, the only woman playing at a man's game while attempting to pressure Miami's mayor into building her a new stadium.
Those are the major players, but that barely scratches the surface of everything going on in the movie. Matthew Modine, Aaron Eckhart, LL Cool J, Bill Bellamy and John McGinley also have prominent roles. Real football legends like Lawrence "L.T." Taylor, Jim Brown, Dick Butkus and Johnny Unitas lend authenticity to the setting. In fact, L.T.'s is perhaps the most sympathetic character in the whole piece. Stone even gives himself a small part as a game commentator. Many more familiar faces make appearances, from Lauren Holly as Quaid's wife, to Ann Margaret as Diaz's mother, and Charlton Heston as the Commissioner. The performances are all strong, even from actors who might seem out of place. I'll be the first to admit that I thought Diaz was miscast, but she pulls off the role just fine.
Stone stages the game footage like combat, showcasing the pure brutality of the sport and the physical toll these athletes put on their bodies. Behind the scenes, he examines the influence of drugs (both prescribed and not), groupies, bitchy wives, the sponsors and advertisers, the media, and the players' own raging egos. The film isn't exactly flattering to the sport (Stone was denied participation from the NFL and had to invent all fictional teams), but nor is it condescending. The movie has an interesting script and never feels padded or drawn out, despite its length.
'Any Given Sunday' is not Oliver Stone's best movie. While the director largely downplays the clichés of the sports picture genre, he can't avoid them entirely. Of course, when the team seems at their lowest point, there will be One Big Game with a last-minute play that might turn everything around. Although painkillers and recreational drugs are given screen time, the movie completely sidesteps any talk of steroids.
The film is as well-directed as anything Stone has made, but the subject also feels impersonal coming from his hands. The movie lacks the incendiary passion of his many pictures about Vietnam or the American presidency. It's a good movie, just not quite a great one.
'Any Given Sunday' was previously released on the Blu-ray format back in 2009, which happened to be the film's 10th anniversary. Although I question how many hardcore fans were allegedly unsatisfied with the last Blu-ray and were clamoring for a re-release five years later, Warner Bros. has chosen to reissue the movie anyway in a new 15th Anniversary Edition, as a Blu-ray + DVD 2-disc set.
The DVD in the case contains the movie's original 162-minute theatrical cut, while the Blu-ray has the 156-minute Director's Cut. That's right, the Director's Cut is shorter. Oliver Stone removed 12 minutes of footage from the theatrical cut and added 6 new minutes. As far as I'm aware, the DVD in this set marks the first time that the film's theatrical cut has appeared on home video. The fact that it's been relegated to DVD suggests just how little the studio and Oliver Stone must think of that version. I wonder why they bothered to release it at all now?
The 15th Anniversary Edition comes packaged in a basic (eco) keepcase with cover art quite similar to the last Blu-ray. (Both are based on the original poster.) Annoyingly, the Blu-ray begins playback automatically without a main menu.
When I reviewed the original Blu-ray back in 2009, I noted a couple of problems but gave the disc high marks overall. The 15th Anniversary Edition not only recycles the same video transfer, it may even be the exact same 1080p/VC-1 encode. Unfortunately, with a further five year's distance and a fresh re-evaluation, the video master (which probably dates back to the old DVD release in 2000) is clearly showing its age.
Although the 2.40:1 image is very bright and colorful, and at least reasonably sharp, I feel certain that a fresh film scan could bring out a little more detail from the source and manage the film grain better. The movie's photography is grainy by nature, but I'm not terribly impressed with the way the grain has been either digitized or compressed. The picture has a gritty texture, even in brightly-lit daylight scenes, and frequently looks noisy.
As is common in many of Stone's films, contrast runs a little hot. In a few scenes, I noticed whites bloom. Colors also tend to be a little oversaturated. I initially believed that to be an intentional stylistic decision, but now I'm not so certain. The transfer also has several pieces of footage that look no better than upconverted standard definition. Some of these happen during optical composites and may be endemic to the source. Others I don't have an explanation for, but fortunately they're usually brief.
If imperfect, this isn't a bad film transfer. It's decent enough for a catalog title that hasn't been granted a full-blown restoration, but I certainly see room for improvement.
The movie's soundtrack has been re-encoded from the last Blu-ray's Dolby TrueHD codec to DTS-HD Master Audio. Both are lossless formats and, aside from possibly a different default volume setting, are accurate representations of the original studio sound master.
In this case, the 5.1 soundtrack is very aggressive with lots of music and sound effects from the surround channels. The many thundering tackles also land with bassy thunks. However, the low end rarely extends as deeply as I might hope from a movie like this, and fidelity as a whole is merely adequate. The roar of the crowds is a little thin, and too many scenes are drowned in blaring noise without clear separation of individual sounds.
Some scenes are better than others. In all, the soundtrack sounds pretty good, but rarely among the best audio available on Blu-ray.
Almost all of the bonus features from the last Blu-ray edition have been ported over to the new one. All supplements are found on the Blu-ray disc in the case. The DVD has none.
'Any Given Sunday' isn't quite one of Oliver Stone's best movies, but it's still an interesting drama with strong performances from a large cast. I'm not sure what need there was to re-release the film on Blu-ray now, but perhaps this just seemed like a good time to bring back a movie critical of the NFL? Even 15 years later, many of the topics addressed here are still relevant to the sport, especially its tendency to use up players until their bodies are destroyed and then just throw them away. However, Stone strangely avoids mentioning steroids. Nor does the film broach more recent controversies involving domestic abuse that were certainly also well-known issues at the time.
If you already own the previous Blu-ray for 'Any Given Sunday', there's little point in upgrading to this one. The video and audio are basically unchanged, and the only new bonus feature is a half-hour featurette of moderate interest. On the other hand, if you don't have the last disc, this one will give you the essentials of what you need.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.