Any Given Sunday: Movie Man Jackson

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On Any Given Sunday, a hero can fall, and a hero can rise. The Miami Sharks, once one of the best franchises in their football league, have fallen on hard times. They aren’t a profitable franchise anymore, and owner Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) is contemplating moving the team. They’ve lost four straight, and Coach Tony D’Amato (Al Pacino) has just lost his 38 year old quarterback Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid) to a debilitating injury.

In relief of Cap comes Willie Beamen (Jamie Foxx), a talented-yet-inexperienced young quarterback. Beamen begins to lead the team to success, but also clashes with D’Amato and his no-nonsense approach. If that weren’t enough, owner Pagniacci may have had enough of the coach’s refusal to adapt to the new age. There’s an unforgiving game played on the gridiron, but the game played outside of it can be just as unforgiving, if not more so.

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When it comes to football movies, there are generally a few classics that are at the top or near the top of every list. Rudy, Friday Night Lights, Remember the Titans, The Longest Yard. One that doesn’t get mentioned as often but in the opinion of yours truly is just as fulfilling, if not more than those aforementioned movies, is the Oliver Stone-directed Any Given Sunday. It’s a movie I loved when I was young, and one I believe gets better and better with age.

Stylistically, like many of Stone’s movies, Any Given Sunday can be very hyperactive, full of cuts, splices, and the like. It is annoying in some movies, but in AGS, the style works wonderfully, in particular, the football scenes. They are so frenetic and fast paced to show that American football, in spite of all of its downtime between plays, is a manic couple of seconds when those plays are going on. Specifically, Stone captures what playing quarterback would be like stepping into a pressure cooker for the first time at the highest level of football. For my money, the opening scene when Foxx’s Beamen arrives to the line of scrimmage for the first time set to Fatboy Slim’s Right Here, Right Now is one of my favorites opening scenes of cinema ever, regardless of genre.

Stone doesn’t only focus on the football, though. Any Given Sunday is just as interested in the stuff that occurs outside of the hashmarks as it is inside of them. The business side of football, the locker room side of football, and the personal side of football are all analyzed. In many ways, the issues and ideological clashes Stone brings attention to such as team doctor ethics, old-school pocket quarterbacking v.s. dual-threat quarterbacking, and whether players are nothing more than new slaves for ownership foreshadowed many hot-topic conversations that exist today in football.

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These stories are very compelling. But still, a major issue of the film is its runtime. Not so much due to bloating or information overload, but the random scenes Stone throws in here and there that just feel overindulgent. Spending roughly one full minute seeing players snort cocaine off of escorts, seeing a player lose an eye, and witnessing an offensive lineman having to go to the bathroom urgently make little sense as to why they had to be included.

Everyone does their jobs cast-wise with what their roles ask of them. Coach D’Amato is one of Pacino’s best recent performances, which says a lot about his recent roles when one considers this was released in 1999. Despite the odd wardrobe for a coach, Pacino feels like a guy who has been around the game for a while, seen a lot of things, and is unsure about his place in the game as it becomes more modernized. Of course, his inches monologue is legendary and galvanizing. I’d say, however, that he is equaled or even upstaged by Jamie Foxx, taking on his first real dramatic role as “Steamin” Willie Beamen. Looking the part of the respective athletic position is important for any football movie, and it is easy to see Foxx’s natural athletic ability. But he’s so good next to Pacino, as a good amount of the film is the two characters coming at each other from different viewpoints. Beamen has layers; dynamic yet traditional, arrogant yet rightfully convicted in his skills. Willie Beamen is one of my personal favorite characters in any film, period.

Notable actors include Dennis Quaid as the grizzled quarterback who knows about leading a locker room, LL Cool J as a selfish running back only looking after himself (his character’s clashes with Beamen feel all the more real as Foxx/LL had real issues with one another), James Woods as a questionable-at-best team doctor, Aaron Eckhart as an up-and-coming coordinator, and Cameron Diaz who really impresses as a female owner/general manager who is very much hands-on. Non-actors such as Lawrence Taylor and Jim Brown, while not exactly being stretched and for good reason, add to the proceedings and actually give the production an air of legitimacy.

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Any Given Sunday still serves as the truest movie representation of pro football and all of its issues that aren’t confined to the field. It might not be at the consensus very top of the draft board for football movies, but it hits just as hard in the entertainment department, if not harder than, those oft-mentioned movies at the top.

A-

Photo credits go to footballsfuture.com, esquire.com, and bluray.highdefdigest.com.

Follow the Movie Man @MovieManJackson

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The Recruit: Movie Man Jackson

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“Nothing…is…what it seems.”

If you can deceive, you can achieve in the CIA. The Recruit introduces us to James Clayton, played by Colin Farrell. James is a brilliant MIT student who is quite talented with computer programming. While at a career fair, James demonstrates his tech aptitude and catches the eye of a onlooker. Later that night, the the onlooker shows up to James’ place of work, and reveals himself as Walter Burke (Al Pacino), a Central Intelligence Agency recruiter. James has no interest in the CIA, but when Walter starts bringing up James’ father, who apparently disappeared under weird circumstances, interest is ignited. Before we know it, he is on his way to interview for the clandestine service at Langley.

Many tests are taken at the Langley headquarters, and everything is measured, taken into account, and visible through the-all encompassing eye of Burke. His goal is to find a NOC, or Non-Official Cover, a person with no ties to the government and no real safety net like say an official agent would, for his own gain. When James competes his training, he becomes the NOC and his first objective given by Burke is to find a mole within the Agency. The tests are over, and this is the big time. Or is it?

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If that short summary does not entice you, I do not blame you one bit. It probably could have been written better just like this movie. The Recruit is not a bad movie, but it was clearly made to be a spy classic and it just isn’t. It aims high and misses wide. When watching a spy and/or political film, it is commonplace to see a few twists and turns. These are present here, minus the few part. The first one or two turns is fine, but once the movie bombards you with more and more, you inversely care less and less. Who cares if the internal mole is found, if the father mystery is resolved, or if the two lovers are playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse? At some point, a movie has to make its audience believe in something, and when the movie spends the bulk of its runtime beating us over the head with “everything is a test,” why should we care about “danger” or “failure?” Ultimately the plot is way too contrived to really enjoy.

Al Pacino and Colin Farrell are twin billed as the leads. Their performances are not terrible, but their respective roles are not shining moments in their filmography. Pacino is able to act in his sleep, and he appears to do so here. It is the same performance you have seen from him in 90% of his films since the 2000’s. The line is crossed a few times into hammy territory, especially at the end. As James Clayton, Colin Farrell turns in a respectable if forgettable performance. His Scottish accent slips in from time to time but nothing to completely draw one out of the film. As a whole, he fails to bring any intrigue to his character. Part of that is on the writing for it, and part of it is due to the simply lackluster performance. Farrell has always been hit and miss with his choice of roles and this one seems to be more of a miss.

The only other notable character is played by Bridget Moynahan, who serves as the predictable love interest. She is OK to look at but her acting here leaves much to be desired. Her chemistry with Colin feels nonexistent and gives yet another reason not to care. I do not know much of her work but a quick survey on a very popular message board shows that there is a sizable amount of people who believe her acting skills are not of high regard, so take that as you may.

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Director Roger Donaldson uses a sort of murky color palate with this film. Not a lot is vibrant, and most scenes look and feel murky, probably to serve as a representation of what the film is getting at: uncertainty. It works, but nothing is particularly striking. It truly could have been shot by anyone, which is not exactly a compliment.

At the end of the day, there is nothing truly atrocious with The Recruit, but everything is average and nothing stands out. Films like these sometimes are worse than bad films. At least with bad films, some are real fun and deserve coming back to for a good time. As definitively objective as I can be, I say that this is not one of those films, and if seen once, I would be surprised if you came back to it again.

Grade: C-

Photo credits to moviepostershop.com, IGN.com, and http://www.tribute.ca.

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