Every Wednesday (or Thursday) Shutdown Corner will take a moment to reflect on a recent or not-so-recent football-related book or movie. This week, it's Oliver Stone's "Any Given Sunday."I remember the excitement when the news first broke that Oliver Stone intended to make a movie about the NFL. In the last ten years, Stone had made "JFK," "Nixon," and "The People vs. Larry Flynt," and before that, "Platoon." All of those movies, in one way or another, mattered. People thought -- or at least I thought -- that we were about to have a professional football movie that mattered. Something beyond your classic "Yay, the underdog wins!" tale. I thought Stone had some insightful observations to make about football, sports, society and how they all come together.
He really didn't, though. Any scathing indictments of the NFL he wanted to make were already fairly common knowledge among people who liked the NFL. Team doctors act unethically to benefit the team and further their own careers? No way! Players in pain will take a massive amount of painkillers to stay on the field? You don't say! Owners are more interested in money and new stadiums than they are the game of football? Get out of town! Some young players develop huge egos that lead to poor decision-making? Quit pulling my leg, Oliver!
Somewhere within the two and a half hours of "Any Given Sunday" is a film with a phenomenal cast, in terms of both star power and talent, some intriguing internal conflicts in the main characters and, for a football movie, a pretty damn good plot. But you almost have to dig to find that stuff within all the overdramatic, unnecessary, "I want to shock you with the shocking things that these shocking people do!" moments, like the linebacker sawing the quarterback's car in half, the dude's eyeball laying on the field or the mini alligator loose in the shower (or that one large snake we get a glimpse of in the locker room).
The movie's at its best when it puts the brakes on for a second and lets the actors do what they do. Cap's conversations about retirement with Tony and with his wife are heartfelt and genuine. James Woods steals every scene he's in as the team doctor. Shark's one-sided conversation with Willie in the sauna is pitch-perfect. There are other moments like these, too, but they get spaced out and lose some of their effectiveness because Oliver Stone felt overdosing you with some an avalanche of wild, quickly-cut eye candy.
"Any Given Sunday" really, really wanted to be the seminal movie about professional football in America, and it sort of came close. The ingredients were there. It just tried to do too many things, tried to be too "cutting edge," and lost sight of the truly important elements. It's kind of a shame.
- Oliver Stone