Director: Oliver Stone
Writer: John Logan and Oliver Stone; Story by Daniel Pyne and John Logan; Based on "On Any Given Sunday" by Pat Toomay
Cinematographer: Salvatore Totino
Producer: Richard Donner, Oliver Stone, Dan Halsted, Lauren Shuler Donner, and Clayton Townsend
by Jon Cvack
I’ve seen the famous “inches” speech over a half dozen times before ever getting to this movie (see below). A friend had recommended it while our film Road to the Well was dealing with a seemingly endless slew of festival rejections. I had seen the monologue before, but the idea of life being a game of inches really didn’t have that much relevance compared to pouring your heart into a project, hoping to get a decent script to a solid cast to reaching production to finishing productions to sculpting it during post to wrapping post to getting to the film festivals and then finally to distribution and marketing. Each chapter - each individual paragraph - was a challenge, and it was through fighting for that smallest inch of accomplishment, only to have to brush yourself off and start all over again, that I understood what Pacino's character was saying. I was not expecting that this was not just the best part of the film, but arguably the only good piece of this entire, disjointed overwrought movie.
It’s very clear what Olive Stone was trying to do, and it’s even clearer where he failed. He wanted to make a movie about Football and what it meant in terms of the celebrity (both old and new), tradition, endurance, and all those small, backroom individuals who help manage the monster - the doctors, trainers, coaches, girlfriends, wives, owners, and so on. The first warning sign is when we realize that this film isn’t about the NFL. Clearly, the organization had no desire to associate itself with the story's debauchery, forcing Stone to create fictional teams per the likes of the Miami Sharks, Dallas Knights, Los Angeles Breakers, Minnesota Americans, and Chicago Rhinos.* While I can appreciate the challenge in creating fictional sports teams, some of these names are terrible, and worse are the uniforms, with simple two color patterns, offering little beyond the name and logo. They looked like they’d been assembled out of economic need than choice, as I assume making hundreds of sports uniforms for over thirty different teams can’t be cheap.
The Miami Sharks are the focus of the story, led by Tony D’Amto (Al Pacino), who’s lost his wife and kids, likely to due to his drinking, drugs, and prostitution habits. Pacino is solid in the role, and saves the part from feeling completely hackneyed. I understood the Washed Up-Coach Character, and in and of itself there’s some interesting stuff there, but it was so extreme (yet not extreme enough to feel inspired), that when placed alongside a bunch of other characters, who also all have drug and sex problems, it felt less unique, like a bunch of colors all so similar in tone that they’re hard to differentiate, creating a big muddied image.
The cast is so long that it’d require pages just to break down each character, including: L.L. Cool Jay playing a running back who needs to up his numbers to secure better sponsorship; Aaron Eckhart as the smart and patient defensive coach; Cameron Diaz as the Shark’s General Manager, inheriting the team from her late father; James Woods (who as the best character) plays a corrupt doctor, willing to overlook signs of CTE, offering pain pills and ill advice to cut down the complaintss and cost; Matthew Modine as the Assistant Doctor who of course doesn’t agree with this; Dennis Quaid as the washed up Quarterback; and Jamies Foxx as the film’s second string, Tom Brady star, who has thoughts on everything from race to how much money he should receive.
Some of the scenes are so ridiculous that I ended up laughing. I’m not one who easily breaks out during bad movies just to make the point, but I truly could not contain myself. Al Pacino yells at the players, but never seems to give it as much as you hope. The fight between Diaz and him alone, as the two argue about his contract and relationship to her father, reminiscing about the good old days before what felt like the entire conversation repeating itself a few times really got to me. It’s also when I realized that Stone's spontaneous, inopportune, and motivated cuts to football's flying through air, or the stands packed with people, or a bunch of old photographs with men holding rings is what really made me lose patience. It’s like they knew the film wasn’t working so added a bunch of B-Roll to help break up the mawkish moments.
Throughout the film, for whatever reason, Oliver Stone decided to keep on adding these quick, non-sequitur cuts and crossfades (non-sequitur in that while about football, they contained no other symbolic or inspired purpose), which made the already-bilious lightning cuts of any other sequence become all the more annoying to watch. I can appreciate what Stone was seemingly trying to accomplish, in having the movie take on the speed of most live sporting events; it’s just that for a 2.5 hour movie that’s far too long to withstand the pace.
It’s an honorable exploration of the sport and accompanying fame. I appreciate the look into the corruption, abuse, and greed. My issue is that it was so one-sided. There are explorations of integrity and loyalty, but compared to the grimness contained throughout the rest of the story, I think they hardly made much difference. It left me wondering what a more balanced approach to the sport would be like - with a doctor that is conflicted between the team and individual; a coach who is failing to make anything of his players; the way fame could infiltrate and poison the mind of an athlete. I’d also want to see the pain, dedication, and care the team has for one another. All of this was contained in that inches speech. Yet funny enough, with that post-rock score playing in the background, allegedly Stone wanted to use a Godspeed You Black Emperor song. He showed them the clip and they said no. I don’t mean this to poke fun. I just think it illustrates how the movie feels and it’s inability to connect with that type of music. While GYBE has depth and richness, this film offers little beyond the dark and superficial.
*I highly recommend this awesome Wikipedia Page that lists all the competitive Major Sports teams in narrative films)
BELOW: One of the all time greatest film monologues
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