Crunch time

Published Dec. 17, 1999|Updated Sept. 30, 2005

Director Oliver Stone's football movie opens Wednesday with the most realistic action scenes ever filmed. And without the NFL's blessing.

The NFL must wait to review film before declaring whether Oliver Stone stepped out of bounds with his pro football drama, Any Given Sunday.

The Oscar-winning filmmaker created a fantasy football league _ Association of Football Franchises of America _ without the cooperation of the NFL, which vetoed Stone's screenplay. The controversial director never expected to receive league cooperation for the movie, which opens nationwide Wednesday.

An NFL spokesman said Thursday that no one from his office had reported attending an advance screening.

"Would it be an Oliver Stone film if the Department of Defense had supported Platoon or Born on the Fourth of July?" Stone asked rhetorically. "Or if the State Department supported JFK? It's impossible.

"If you're going to be honest, you go to the guys who play the game, the ones who know about hard hits and cursing and getting hurt, maybe forever. A lot of (stuff) goes down."

Not much juicy stuff goes down in Any Given Sunday. The film is technically superb, the most realistic version of football's speed and violence filmed. Off the field, Stone glosses over several issues damaging the sport. No player is shown abusing drugs, or his significant other. Racial inequalities in front offices and owners threatening to move teams get one scene each. Groupies and profanity appear to be the league's only vices.

Stone made stronger claims about pro football in a 20-minute interview than in his 160-minute movie.

"There is a conservative side to the NFL, hard-core, conservative guys who do not want to see any misrepresentation of this Disney image that has been created," Stone said.

"It's a billion-dollar boys club. On the other hand, (NFL owners) Jerry Jones and Eddie DeBartolo were very helpful for us. We will get criticism from the usual suspects, but I think many players may say things that surprise you."

Co-star and NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown said: "Players will say the movie is true, and owners will say it's a lie."

NFL director of corporate communications Chris Widmaier said Stone's request for league assistance was one of many the league receives each year for licensing permission.

"This particular one, we chose not to participate with," Widmaier said. "We saw a number of different script treatments. We just didn't think some of the themes being brought up would be in our best interests. The vast majority of NFL players are good citizens. Focusing on the negatives didn't particularly appeal to us."

The $55-million film stars Al Pacino as coach of the Miami Sharks, former winners of the AFFA Pantheon Cup now struggling. Quarterback Cap Rooney (Dennis Quaid) is injured, his backup is ineffective, and the team's offensive fortunes ride on a brash third-stringer (Jamie Foxx). Subplots include a shrewd, shrill team president (Cameron Diaz), an aging linebacker (Lawrence Taylor) and an obnoxious sports reporter (John C. McGinley) who acts a lot like radio talk-show host Jim Rome.

Stone used Miami's Orange Bowl and Pro Player Stadium, and Texas Stadium for game locales. Homestead Sports Complex doubled as the Sharks' training facility. The lack of NFL approval made it necessary to design original, slightly futuristic uniforms. Tryouts produced 50 extras, mostly veterans of the NFL and Canadian and Arena leagues.

As many as nine cameras rolled during game scenes, mounted atop helmets and behind players' legs, or swirling through the mayhem. Athletes and actors occasionally worked 14-hour days in full pads. Stone pulled the celebrity starters when scenes were dangerous.

Some stars didn't want to leave the field. Former 49ers tight end Jamie Williams wrote one of three screenplays combined by Stone and John Logan, and worked as technical adviser for the film. He recalled a day LL Cool J, playing a running back, repeated an especially brutal play several times.

"The guys on the other team aren't thinking about Oliver Stone," Williams said. "They're thinking, "This is my chance to put some wood on LL Cool J.'

"LL could have come off the field, but he said, "No, no, I've got to do this.' Because all the guys were woofing on the other side, calling him out, "C'mon, Hollywood star.' "

Even Taylor and pros Ricky Watters of Seattle and Terrell Owens of the 49ers had to play heads-up ball.

"Every day was almost like going through a real practice," Taylor said. "You got guys who wanted to prove themselves, especially when I walked out there. I'm trying to let them know, "Hey, I'm 40 years old. I ain't got to, and don't want to, prove nothing.' You had to keep your helmet buckled."

Stone's rhapsodic view of pro football is evident throughout Any Given Sunday. The words "gladiators" and "warriors" are often used, with enough minute detail and romanticized slow motion to make NFL Films jealous. The combination of dizzying action and crunching sound effects had preview audiences cringing in their seats.

"I tried to make every huddle, every line of scrimmage, as real as I could," Stone said. "(It's) harder to shoot than a war film because then I can let mistakes happen since war is chaos. Here, you have to obey rules: 10 yards, four downs, etc.

"But you also have 11 men looking downfield, reaching for the same goal. Something mystical, like the Indians with lacrosse, something of the earth. That's the beauty of the game."