Tony D'Amato (Al Pacino), the coach of the Miami Sharks (a once great football team) is a hard drinking, no nonsense legend, used to making deals on a handshake. D'Amato believes in only one thing - the purity of the game of football - which makes him an anachronism in a world filled with showboating free-agents interested in nothing but self promotion and portfolio building.
Okay, we're going for the mercy play - take Stone out at the knees
After losing his star quarterback to an injury D'Amato calls on Willie Beaman (Jamie Foxx) - an unproven third stringer, to break the team's slump, and is surprised when the kid actually delivers. Faster than you can snap a football, Beaman is transformed - he breaks up with his girlfriend of several years, becomes a pitchman for the highest bidder, ditches the playbook, and begins aggravating his teammates. Add a meddling female owner who wants wins no matter what the cost to the team cohesion, and you have one very stressed out coach.
There seems to a belief among directors that in order for their films to be considered "serious cinema" they have to be at least two and a half hours long. We can thank/blame mister Stone for this. When they deliver the goods, you might not notice the length. But when they don't, time feels like it's standing still. Sunday falls squarely in the no-man's land between the two extremes.
Stone's initial thesis - football as a symbol of the decline of a bygone age based on honor and reliance upon one's fellow man - is compelling and strong enough to carry a film. Unfortunately, even with three hours to tell his story, Stone can't decide how best to tell his story and express his themes. Instead he wanders off on multiple tangents, and squanders valuable time in an effort to bolster several irrelevant subplots that contribute nothing of worth, and ultimately hamstring his more effective elements. On the positive side, there there are some good performances to be found.
Whether mob kingpin, or the devil himself, Pacino giving it his all is the closest you will get to a sure thing in Hollywood. D'Amato's life-as-sport philosophizing is counter balanced by his frequent tirades, and withdrawn agony. In the hands of an inexperienced actor D'Amato would have been little more than a caricature, but Pacino treads carefully and takes pains not to overshadow his colleagues.
Dennis Quaid is solid as the injured former wunderkind - he grimaces so well, that you almost can feel his pain. LL Cool J does a capable job as the team's even keeled running back, and Jamie Foxx does an admirable job in his first serious dramatic outing, which certainly laid the groundwork for his stunning recent performaces in Collateral and Ray. The weak link in this film is Cameron Diaz, who tries too hard to be the film's unlikable "tough guy" owner - it requires more than being able to shriek and curse people out to make that type of character work.
If Stone had been able to show a little restraint and focussed on his characters a bit more, Any Given Sunday could have been one of the great sport films. Instead, you'll have to rely on some fancy fast forward work to find the awesome action sequences and solid acting and filter out the mediocrity.