Monday, June 9, 2014


I wrote a piece on Any Given Sunday a few months ago, most of which, to my extreme irritation, accidentally got erased. I still have two paragraphs from the piece, at least. In short, I found the movie as interesting and awful as all of Stone's work. Here's a brief glimpse of why:

Like Michael Mann's Ali, Oliver Stone opens Any Given Sunday with an exhilarating showcase of its sport of topic (Ali was boxing, here it's football) before introducing any characters, motivations, etc... It's a great scene, maybe most electric football scene ever shot. Its chaotic camera moves, jittery close-ups, whip pans, and seemingly random crane shots, scream Oliver Stone immediately. For the next two thirds of the film, the fact that this is an Oliver Stone movie is even more blatant: he takes a topic, finds a stance, goes about investigating it in sometimes fascinating, sometimes messy, sometimes completely illogical ways, and all the time being completely self-indulgent and not giving a shit what anyone thinks.

The story itself isn't terribly interesting. A fictional football team, the Miami Sharks, are struggling to fill seats and win games. Things only get worse when the Shark's star quarterback (Dennis Quaid) is injured and their very traditional head coach Tony D'Amato faces increasing pressure the team's aggressive young female owner, Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz). What Stone does have going for him though is a pretty remarkable cast of characters, who are essentially all in this movie so he can comment on the other side of football, (and professional sports in general) the money grubbing, selfishness, and dishonesty. The strength is also the movie's problem: it makes for compelling drama, but essentially Stone is taking professional sport types and cramming them all onto one team: there's the old school coach who values pep talks and instinct, the aging quarterback struggling to make a comeback, the young quarterback (Jaime Foxx) who's completely caught up in the conflict of athletes becoming celebrities, the team doctor who doesn't mix ethics with medicine, and then of course Diaz' Christina, who's basically a Jeffery Loria-type, representing the business of sports.


I saw Heat for the fourth time the other night, but for the first time on blu ray. The viewing wasn't so much to see it in high definition (though it did look-and sound-quite spectacular), but rather to (hopefully) confirm my belief that it's a great movie. It pretty much did. Perhaps the best thing about it is that it perfectly presents two of Mann's major interests-macho action filmmaking and character studies of men who long to, but cannot escape the now-and shows how they're so intwined. Consider, for example, how much of Neil's (DeNiro) personal dilemma is tied into the climactic hotel scene, or how the bank heist is so connected to the thieves' personal needs and how the ensuing street shootout (which, for me, still ranks as one of the top five action scenes) means so much to Vincent's (Pacino) need for living on the edge. Mann allows us to read his characters through his action scenes (the clarity of the way he presents these scenes is thus even more valuable than simply clarity for the sake of clarity a la Paul WS Anderson), which is a hell of a lot more interesting than what even the best action filmmakers have to offer. Heat doesn't have a terribly original story, yet the way Mann tells it was and remains unprecedented. The film's dramatic weight comes from how seriously Mann takes his story, how long he spends on dramatic scenes and how good his writing is and how committed the actors are. It's almost silly how much emotion he's is able to get out of a story that on paper should never resonate the way it does. Here's a question though that I don't have an answer to just yet: While Heat encapsulates many of Mann's narrative and visual interests, it has a strange place in his body of work. It's not Thief or Manhunter, and it's definitely not Miami Vice/Public Enemies, yet it so clearly has elements from all of those films. Does it represent the best of both groups in Mann's diverse body of work, or is its placement in his filmography just a little awkward?

Also, if you haven't seen Matt Zoller Seitz's brilliant video essays on Mann, get to watching

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