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.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Any Given Sunday' comes to Blu-ray from Warner Home Video. The disc contains only the 156-minute Director's Cut version of the movie, which actually runs 6 minutes shorter than the original theatrical release. For home video, Oliver Stone removed 12 minutes of footage from the theatrical cut and added 6 new minutes.
An annoying Blu-ray promo plays before the feature. Like most Warner Blu-rays, the disc automatically starts the movie without a main menu, and defaults to the lossy Dolby Digital audio track until manually changed. Because the disc is not Java-enabled, the pop-up menus won't work while the movie is paused. If you want to switch to the lossless Dolby TrueHD track, you have to do so while the movie plays and then skip back to rewatch the opening scene. How irritating.
For the most part, the Blu-ray's 1080p/VC-1 transfer looks great. The 2.40:1 image is very bright, sharp, and detailed. Close-ups reveal every dimple in the football's pigskin texture. As is common in many of Stone's films, contrasts run a little hot, but the picture has no serious problems with detail clipping. Colors also tend to be a little oversaturated by design, especially many of the wackier team uniforms. That looks deliberate and is fitting for the heightened stylistic tone that the director is going for. The disc has no noticeable issues with edge ringing or Digital Noise Reduction artifacts.
Stone likes to play around with varying film stocks. Some scenes, and some shots within scenes, are grainier than others. Some of the grain looks pretty noisy, like it's been inadequately compressed. There are also several pieces of footage in the movie that look no better than upconverted Standard Definition, but they're infrequent and move by quickly. Considering the length of the film, the problem areas don't detract from an overall favorable impression.
I expected more from the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack. Football movies by their nature give plenty of opportunities for inventive sound design. While 'Any Given Sunday' has lots of thundering tackles, bass rarely extends as deeply as hoped. The roar of the crowds frequently fills the surround channels, but sounds a little thin. Dialogue is quite low in the mix and is often obscured. Too many scenes are just drowned in blaring noise without clear separation of individual sounds.
Some scenes are better than others. The last game sounds pretty terrific. In all, the soundtrack is pretty good, but rarely among the best audio available on Blu-ray.
The Blu-ray retains all of the important bonus features from the 2-Disc Special Edition DVD released back in 2001. When you first pull up the Special Features menu, the volume of supplements may look overwhelming. In reality, they boil down to only a small handful of interesting items.
'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. The Blu-ray looks great, sounds OK, and has a few decent bonus features. The disc is worth a look.