Before starting production on the football movie Any Given Sunday, Oliver Stone took his crew to a screening of Saving Private Ryan. Though he found certain messages in Steven Spielberg’s film disconcerting—“The worship of World War II as the good war,” Stone said in 2011—Stone wanted the action in Any Given Sunday to match the brutality and chaos of Spielberg’s depiction of D-Day. He planned to capture the game as it had never been filmed—from the huddle to the trenches to the infirmary. Blood and viscera and broken bones included. Football, in his hands, would be even more anarchic than the game on television. 

Jack "Cap" Rooney (Dennis Quaid). Image via Warner Bros. Pictures.

Any Given Sunday’s opening scene sets the tone when three defenders sack Cap Rooney, the Miami Sharks veteran star quarterback played by Dennis Quaid. The hit looks and sounds vicious. “We nearly tore the ACL off Quaid’s stunt double,” says Mark Robert Ellis, the assistant football coordinator. “That was a great hit. It had to be great, it opened the movie.” Later, in the hospital alongside his wife and coach, Cap howls for stronger painkillers in his intravenous drip: “I’m a football player, they need to pump up the volume.” But there is little doubt that Cap will return in time for the big game even if his ruptured disc hasn’t healed. Cap is a warrior. A soldier. A hero. And the quarterback is the leader of his battalion, the eleven men approaching the line of scrimmage looking downfield together. 

“Football is mesmerizing because it’s a figurative war: You go in one direction till you get there, but you get there as a team, not as an individual,” Stone told Premiere magazine in 1999. The metaphor of football as war is one of the themes Oliver Stone, a two-time Academy Award winner for Best Director, explores in Any Given Sunday. (And it is a metaphor that has been exploited in real life. It was recently revealed that the Department of Defense paid the NFL up to $6.8 million in taxpayer money to hold military tributes.) 

Any Given Sunday turned Jamie Foxx into a star, revolutionized the way football could be filmed, and delved into issues still plaguing the game such as racism, sexism, ageism, the sports media, the public financing of stadiums, drug abuse, and concussions. The NFL did not want this movie released. And with Will Smith’s Concussion opening Christmas Day, it deserves another look. Any Given Sunday is an important sports film, prescient and oddly more relevant and timely than when it was released in December 1999, which doesn’t mean it’s without flaws—it’s over-stylized (even for an Oliver Stone film) and brimming with underdeveloped characters, sports movie clichés, and the type of quick, jarring edits that could even turn a Michael Bay fan queasy. 

Behind the scenes, the movie was as chaotic as the action on the field. There were delays, script problems, casting issues, endless partying, and a fistfight between two of the leads. “The stories are all true,” says a member of the production. “In every capacity, it was completely out of hand.” 

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