Magazine article Family Therapy Networker

SCREENING ROOM; Raging Bulls: For Some, Violence Is the Last Bastion of Masculinity

Magazine article Family Therapy Networker

SCREENING ROOM; Raging Bulls: For Some, Violence Is the Last Bastion of Masculinity

Article excerpt

In William Inge's play Picnic , an over-the-hill football star (played in the 1955 movie by William Holden), with nothing to his name but a pair of his father's boots, drifts into a small town and disrupts it as he acts out the violent model of masculinity he learned from his father: "Son, the man of the house has got to have a pair of boots because he's got to do a lot of kicking. Son, there'll be times when the only thing you got to be proud of is the fact that you're a man, so wear your boots so people know you're coming, and keep your fists doubled up so they know you mean business when you get there."

Violence is the last resort for men who have nothing else to be proud of. In some neighborhoods, boys learn the skills of success. In others they learn to survive failure. But in a few, they learn violence as the direct route to dignity. Three recent movies, the great Boys Don't Cry , the good The Hurricane and the sophomoric Any Given Sunday , examine violence as a way to raise one's social standing. Violence becomes, in these films, an issue of social class.

Oliver Stone, an effective filmmaker with a voice of social and political outrage and a hallmark conspiracy obsession, has made masterpieces (Platoon, Nixon ) and paranoid ramblings (JFK, Natural Born Killers ). Now, in his great box office success, Any Given Sunday , he takes on pro football and declares it a noble expression of true masculinity, whose purity is endangered by evil team owners, sportscasters, team physicians and player's wives, who are in a conspiracy to sacrifice the players for money.

In adolescence, football may be the requisite rite of passage for boys who would demonstrate their willingness to endure pain and danger for membership in the brotherhood of masculinity. It may even be an apt preparation for war. (The Duke of Wellington insisted that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton.) But as a way of life for grown men, football lacks class. Even if no players have been charged with murder this week, sadistic behemoths who get off on slamming oversized bodies into one another are not practicing genteel masculinity. Stone likes it anyway.

Stone opens his tribute to this brutal sport with an essentially plotless and almost completely depersonalized, graphically filmed half hour of slow-motion, close-up, intensely colored football action, with mud, thuds, blood, a lot of sweat and a fair amount of vomit on the field. We gradually see that the overwrought coach (Al Pacino) of the Miami Sharks is sending his quarterbacks (from aging, brittle Dennis Quaid to raw, undisciplined Jamie Foxx) into a human mangling machine on the field. The dehumanization of the players is akin to the opening scenes from Saving Private Ryan . The difference, which seems lost on the film, is that war is for real and football is supposed to be a game. It is supposed to be fun, and yet it is treated here, and played, as a matter of life and death, as vital as war itself.

Still, the bombastic, kaleidoscopic opening sequence has a ghastly beauty. It is a cavalcade of masculinity on the hoof, more reminiscent of buffalo stampedes in Dances With Wolves or The Lion King than the chariot race in Ben-Hur , which Stone flashes at us from time to time.

The rest of the cliche-ridden film tries to raise our ire about what the game is doing to the bodies and souls of its players. Ballsy, bratty Cameron Diaz and her boozy, blowsy mother, Ann-Margaret, own the team. Diaz is the villain of the film. She sees Pacino as a loudmouthed old fossil (she's right) and undercuts him. Pacino, in turn, distrusts his flamboyant new star quarterback, Foxx, who is saddled with attitude and creatively finds an anti-African American conspiracy behind the riches and glory being thrown at him. Foxx, a TV comic in real life and here the paranoid version of Cuba Gooding, Jr., in Jerry Maguire , is cute, flexes some really impressive muscles and shows off a lot. …

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