Visually speaking, anyway, the genre of football movies (and sports movies in general) may have to answer to this one from now on, an epic-length, obscenely realistic examination of every angle of professional football."Every angle" is a good way of putting it, too, as director Oliver Stone manages to squeeze more shots from more points of view into the football-game sequence that opens the film than some films have in their entirety. We see the game from the perspective of the players, the coaches, the media, the fans and the people watching on TV -- and in each case, we're made to feel like we're RIGHT THERE with them (which, you'll recall, was what people loved so much about "Saving Private Ryan").
"The 'Saving Private Ryan' of football movies."
Al Pacino, yelling and swearing a lot as usual while doing a bang-up acting job, is Tony D'Amato, the coach of the Miami Sharks. His first- and second-string quarterbacks have been injured, forcing him to play the cocky glory-hound Willie Beaman (Jamie Foxx). D'Amato hates the way Beaman changes plays at the last minute and doesn't have his head in the game; unfortunately, the guy is pulling the team out of its losing streak, so his complaints to general manager Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz) fall on deaf ears.
D'Amato is an old-school coach whose players love him, with the possible exception of Beaman. He believes in team work and loyalty; he's given his entire life to this team over the last 20 years, and he'll be darned if some hot-shot is going to tear the team apart from the inside.
Football, made here to seem like the only important thing in life, is in fact a metaphor for life. You win some, you lose some. You come in a half-second too late, you miss your chance. And in the end, what really matters is whether you played with dignity and pride, and not whether you won or lost.
Diaz is badly miscast as the general manager. Christina is intended to be out-of-place, her daddy having left her the team when he died; the problem is that Diaz has so little clue what she's doing, she can't even be convincing as a woman who doesn't know what she's doing. You get the sense that Cameron Diaz, not Christina Pagniacci, is the one struggling.
Nearly everyone else in the ensemble is terrific, especially Pacino (of course) and Foxx (surprisingly). James Woods is also a slithering delight as the team's cynical sports doctor.
As the producers of highlights reels learned long ago, everything seems more dramatic if you put it in slow-motion and punch up the bone-crunching sound effects. Stone, using every technique in his filmmaker's handbag, does this and more, with close-up shots of the ball being snapped, of players' eyes, of shattering tackles, usually without a tripod and sometimes cutting from one shot to the next so fast you can't keep up. It's like Stone is making violent, passionate love to the game of football.
He uses the same techniques outside of the game, too; about half the movie seems like one big montage of parties, commercial shoots, and arguments with the front office.
It's a visually exciting movie, dazzling in its whole-hearted use of mind-bending images. It could easily be 20 minutes shorter just by cutting a few seconds off the many shots that seem to go on forever, but I suppose that would make Stone feel his art had been tampered with. In his mind, there's probably not a second that could be shaved off anywhere without doing serious harm to the film, and you can tell he feels that way just by watching it. (How long do we need to watch a football soar through the air in slow-motion? Ten seconds? Twenty? More?)I disagree, but at the same time, I could hardly take my eyes off the screen. It's unflinchingly real, but explosively entertaining, too.
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originally posted: 06/30/03 12:50:39