Friday, July 29, 2011

ANY GIVEN SUNDAY: Blu-ray (WB 1999) Warner Home Video

Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday (1999) is a gridiron armchair warrior’s wet dream, a testosterone-driven, over-sexed exposé on the fickle ‘business’ machinery behind professional football. Stone’s preference for filmic exploitation has always veered on the side of controversy and this film is no exception.

The screenplay by Daniel Pyne, John Logan and Oliver Stone is a backstage pass into the sweaty locker rooms and million dollar mansions of the league's most egotistical players and an insider's view of the even more superficial lifestyles of its owners (although wranglers seems a more fitting descriptor here). These guys are animals!

Behind closed doors deals are made and careers are destroyed. Deception is par for the course. Sex with multiple partners is preferred. And performance enhancing and recreational drugs and booze are as interchangeable as the score cards. I can't much say I approve of the tactics these boy's with toys use to claw their way to the top. But like a train wreck one is privy to but not a part of, it is compelling to watch.

Something of a patchwork of extensive research, Stone originally developed his treatment as ‘Monday Night’ from a script by San Francisco 49er Jamie Williams and sports journalist, Richard Weiner. This original content was then married to John Logan’s spec script, On Any Given Sunday, and later, Daniel Pyne’s Playing Hurt with extensive revisions by Gary Ross, Raynold Gideo, Bruce Evans, Lisa Amsterdam, Robert Huizenga and finally, Stone himself – although the final writing credit exclusively goes to Logan and Stone.

Huizenga’s input in particular gives insight into the backdoor/backroom medical abuse of the league's players. Frequently told that their injuries are ‘just bruises’ when in reality they have suffered ruptured discs, torn ligaments and a litany of other career-ending and possibly life-threatening injuries. For further authenticity Stone incorporates archival footage featuring Jim Brown, Y.A. Tittle, Emmitt Smith and Terrell Owens – among other 'greats' in the profession. Some even appear in cameos.

Like most of Stone's more admirable efforts this one is an ensemble piece. But its central narrative revolves around two characters. The first is in-your-face head coach of the Miami Sharks, Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino doing a gross caricature of Dallas Cowboy’s Tom Landry). The second is the team's new owner-in-training, Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Dias); a rather prissy backstabbing heiress to this sports’ dynasty.

Under Christina’s late father and surviving widow Margaret Pagniacci (Ann Margaret) Tony was allowed his way with the team. For many seasons he delivered the sort of leadership and inspiration that turned a tidy profit for all concerned. Lately however, his instincts haven’t been so good.

Tony’s methods are perceived by Christina as an out-of-date. As far as she is concerned Tony is a warhorse with little resale value except maybe for glue. Worse, their professional working relationship has become sandpaper and salt at best. To reinvigorate the team with some new blood Christina hires offensive coordinator Nick Crozier (Aaron Eckhart).

On the surface Nick’s only there to augment Tony’s tutelage of the players. Behind the scenes Chris’ makes no bones that she will be replacing Tony as soon as his contract expires. Meanwhile, Chris’ begins a series of strategic political manoeuvres that result in a showdown between the AFFA Commissioner (Charlton Heston) and Miami Mayor Tyrone Smalls (Clifton Davis).

A minor subplot involves star player, Jack ‘Cap’ Rooney (Dennis Quaid) who, after being sidelined with a potentially crippling back injury is fast-tracked to play again by Dr. Harvey Mandrake (James Woods). But the good doctor is more Frankenstein than Kildare. His idea of rehabilitation is juicing up the players with a cortisone and steroid cocktail, designed to mask their pains rather than heal their injuries. Rooney’s physical weaknesses are compounded by the unrelenting gall of his trophy wife, Cindy (Lauren Holly). She'll stop at nothing to exploit her husband for his money even if it costs him both his career and his livelihood.

While Rooney is on the mends Steamin’ Willie Beaman (Jamie Foxx) subs in the line up and makes the most of his opportunity to show the managers he has what it takes to become their next star player. A rookie with a lot of heart, ample talent and an ego beyond the scope of either, Beaman trifles with a singing career, asks Christina on a date and frequently overrides the approved game plan to grandstand. This does much to incur the wrath of fellow player, Julian Washington (LL Cool J). On more than one occasion these two brutes decides to settle their differences with a fist fight.

The rest of the film unfurls as though it were an earthy battlefield cry choreographed by Led Zeppelin. We are treated to a barrage of mind-numbing music video junkets. These are staged for nothing else than a maximum turbo-infused adrenaline pump. From a purely visceral standpoint these montages do get the heart pounding.

Bookending each bone-crushing head-on contact and slow-mo sweat spilling tumble across the green is an endless line-up of afterhours glitz and glam-bam where players try to out-bling one another. A flash of gold chains and teeth and some muscle flexing follows. This is a world where the men are cold and ramped up on the latest steroid du jour, and, the women they screw stay hot yet grossly superficial. When they're not busy beating one another to a pulp there's nothing more entertaining to this motley crew then to trash their grossly expensive homes and cars. Clearly the bygone era of courtly sportsmanship is not on this movie’s agenda!

As the tension and losses mount the future of the Miami Sharks and Tony’s affiliation as their coach converge on a parallel course, diffused only after Tony agrees to a buyout and ‘retirement’. The joke, however, is on Christina – who is informed along with the rest of the spectators that, not only has Tony accepted a lucrative post as head coach and general manager of the Albuquerque Aztecs, but he has also convinced Willie Beamen – their only star player – to sign on as his starting quarterback and franchise player.

Any Given Sunday is heavy-handed entertainment at best. It moves quickly but without much cinematic stealth. Stuart Levy, Thomas Nordberg, Keith Salmon and Stuart Waks chop-shop editing recreates the frenetic energy of the playing field well enough. Regrettably, this stylized Ginsu effect goes on throughout the rest of the story telling, resulting in an endless and rather anesthetising spectacle.

Stone directs with his usual in-your-face flair and succeeds in looking beyond mere scores and touchdowns. In the final analysis however Any Given Sunday displays an awful lot, yet reveals very little. If anything our already low expectations of professional sports figures sinks even further. According to this film they're all just a bunch of vane behavioural misfits, severely out of touch with reality and a huge social embarrassment to anyone except the most ardent fan.

Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray easily bests its DVD incarnation. This is a pristine reference quality 1080p transfer. Colours leap from the screen. There's a genuine spatiality and dimensionality to the image. Fine details are evident throughout. Black levels are deep and solid. Whites are bright though never blooming. For the 'wow' factor in HD there are few discs to compare. This one's a winner through and through.

The audio is TruHD 5.1 and incredibly aggressive as it should be. This presentation is as much a feast for the ear as it is for the eyes. Extras include a two proficient and very different audio commentaries from Stone and selected cast and crew, a barrage of 'making of' featurettes, 6 minutes of deleted scenes, outtakes and montages, an interview with Jamie Foxx, a music only audio track and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)






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