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.

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

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Traffic: Movie Man Jackson

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“Is this like freebasing?”

“Not like, it is.”

It was Richard Nixon who brought the “War on Drugs” phrase into the American consciousness, formally, in an effort to get illicit substances off of streets. Over 40 years later and over 50 billion annually spent on the effort, is it worth it? In Mexico, police officers Javier (Benicio Del Toro), and Manolo (Jacob Vargas), do what they can to clean up their area. Their efforts get noticed by General Salazar (Tomas Milian), a noteworthy law enforcement official who wants the two to take down one of Mexico’s most powerful cartels to further better the country.

Out in San Diego, DEA officers Montell (Don Cheadle), and Ray (Luis Guzman), are able to apprehend one of the United States’ biggest dealers, who gives up his boss in exchange for a lighter sentence. This impacts Helena Ayala (Catherine Zeta-Jones), the pregnant wife and mother who is now without a husband and father. Finally, in Washington D.C., Robert Wakefield (Michael Douglas), has been appointed as the country’s new drug czar. His number one priority? Figuring out how to be a victor in the War on Drugs, a war that may hit closer to home than he could ever imagine.

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Director Steven Soderbergh (Ocean’s Eleven, Erin Brokovich) asks one simple question in Traffic, one that everyone has asked since Nixon and others have made it a mission to tackle the War on Drugs. Is it really worth the effort? Though Soderbergh’s stance appears to be semi-clear—to yours truly at least—it never feels like he’s trying to overtly say its right or wrong to do so, but that simply, there will always be challenges to overcome that may not have clear answers.

Through the use of three intriguing concurrent stories, Soderbergh shows that this particular war is one that can make anyone, and everyone, powerless. No one “main” character is one-dimensional; alll have flaws and strengths that are brought to light. As a result, the story, already but not explicitly inspired by actual events, feels even realer.

Despite the awards and nominations Traffic received, the aspect that people may remember the most might very well be the visual one. Soderbergh uses three distinct colors filters to differentiate between the three storylines and give them a recognizable feel, whether it be the super cool blue hue of the Wakefield storyline (feels a little overdone, at times), the more traditional but slightly artificial look of the Ayala storyline, or the yellow-drenched saturation and even horror-like feel of the Mexico storyline.

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The old saying of the “whole being greater than the sum of its parts” is one that applies to a lot of things. With Traffic, however, I’m not sure that is correct. They are interconnected, yet don’t always feel like they are, at least in the early going. Which, is a shame because all three stories are compelling, to the level that one may wonder how each would do if they were given sole attention to play out. The first half suffers from a momentum standpoint as once the viewer really begins to get into one storyline, Soderbergh moves onto the next one, which effectively kills the build that each subsequent plot had. Credit goes to writer Stephen Gaghan as it pertains to the second half, though, as all three storylines begin to snap into place and logically flow into each other with no momentum compromised.

Traffic is absolutely stacked with a beefed-up cast that still holds weight and clout 15 years later. Michael Douglas, Benicio Del Toro, Don Cheadle, Dennis Quaid, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Luis Guzman are all names that have turned in great work over the years and do so again here, though no one out of this group definitively excels…except Del Toro.

Even amid a bevvy of multidimensional characters, his is easily the most complex and mysterious, and the fact that he delivers almost all of it in Spanish is all the more impressive. His character, and storyline, is one that easily could have been made into a full movie. Supporting characters anchored by Erika Christensen, Clifton Collins, Jr., and Miguel Ferrer serve as important catalysts to many of the story’s linking points. The only negative with a few of the characters is that their actions/character arcs feel a bit rushed, especially as there’s no real timeline context given in the movie. I am sometimes against time stamps, but would have appreciated one in dialogue every now and then.

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With all of the stories present, Traffic could have been bloated, dull, and full of emptiness. And while its three-pronged story takes some time to come together as one, a superb cast, unique filming techniques, and an effort to ultimately let viewers decipher the message makes Traffic a compelling watch for anyone mildly interested in the War on Drugs from a macro and micro level.

Grade: B+

Photo credits go to impawards.com, screenrant.com, and imagefreehd.com.

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