I am the last guy to take any interest in sport, in any of its myriad stultifying forms. Yet I was very pleased when my informal Oliver Stone retrospective brought me to this movie.
I'd always loved the title... It's so economical and evocative.
It is actually an improvement of the title of a script called On Any Sunday by John Logan ("a really excellent writer," says Stone). It is telling that Logan wrote the movie Gladiator.
On Any Given Sunday definitely presents a gladiatorial view of the sport. (Stone says, "I played football in elementary school... I think I liked the violence of the game.")
But that John Logan script was just the starting point of this movie. It was then combined with a factual book by Robert Huizenga, who had been a team physician for the Los Angeles Raiders, and who exposed a lot of seamy practices in big league football.
In the movie there are two physicians, the senior being the wonderfully named Harvey Mandrake (James Woods), who is willing to pass men as fit to play even if they're likely to drop dead on the field.
Meanwhile, Matthew Modine plays Ollie Powers, the younger and more idealistic doctor who corresponds to Huizenga and who fights for reform.
But these two medics are just a small part of a big and complex movie, which is one reason that Huizenga didn't end up with his name on the writing credits — which go to Logan, Stone and Daniel Pyne.
Essentially the film is about Al Pacino as the ageing coach Tony D'Amato and Jamie Foxx as Willie Beamen, an inexperienced young quarterback who is given his big chance.
"Each one of those concerts represents another stage of Jim's journey, as do these games for Pacino and Jamie Foxx."
But, as discussed on this excellent interview on the BBC World Service, despite being a very male oriented movie, On Any Given Sunday features some of Stone's strongest women — like Lauren Holly as Cindy Rooney.
She's married to Jack 'Cap' Rooney (Dennis Quaid), the senior quarterback whose serious injuries open the door for Willie Beamen.
When Cap tells Cindy that he doesn't think he can stand the pain and pressure of playing any more... she punches him in the face.
And then there is Christina Pagniacci, the owner of the team, played by Cameron Diaz.
Unlike the female druglord in Savages, there was no factual historical precedent for such a person. "There was nobody like that — no female owners," says Stone.
And Diaz is a revelation. She was cast in the movie at a time when she was still principally known for her comic roles. But she is perfect.
And there's a classic moment when she comes into the locker room full of players after a game, looking chic and poised and collected in an elegant black Chanel dress while these gargantuan naked gladiators tower over her.
"She was cool as a cucumber," Stone says.
It's an unforgettable image from a film that's full of memorable visuals — a practise machine throws a football soaring into a blue sky, a rainswept field full of muddy, dripping players heaves like a primordial swamp.
Like I say, I couldn't care less about sport. But I was utterly caught up in the fate of this fictional team and its vividly evoked characters.
(As with my other recent posts, the quotes by Oliver Stone are taken from this excellent book on him.)
(Image credits: IMDB.)