' ' Cinema Romantico: The Face of Nick Crozier

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Face of Nick Crozier

Football coaches are in a way required to have their own gridiron version of the theater's Happy/Sad Mask. In other words, they have to play two different parts at once. New England Patriots' head coach Bill Belichick, for instance, is perceived in the public arena as a top-notch strategist, a brilliant game theorist. Of course, he also must motivate, and he does through humiliation and intimidation. Knute Rockne, the late collegiate football coach who made Notre Dame what it was on the football field, is perceived in popular culture as the fore bearer of rah-rah inspiration, coining "Win one for The Gipper" and other motivational sundries. Of course, he also had to strategize, and he did to supreme effect, advancing the forward pass in leaps and bounds with his inventive game planning. To succeed as a football coach, it is critical that he wear the Strategic Mask and the Motivational Mask to equal effect.

Oliver Stone's behemothic American professional football opus, "Any Given Sunday", had a lot of plot happenings and it had a lot of actors participating in those plot happenings, and yet it seems virtually indisputable that its single greatest takeaway is Al Pacino's Inspirational Locker Room Speech. It's the '85 Bears of Inspirational Locker Speeches. Facing a do-or-die playoff game with a team in considerable turmoil, Pacino's head coach Tony D'Amato unleashes an oration so compelling that he lends the oft-espoused footballer phrase "I'd run through a wall for that man" everlasting life. Listen to the speech. You would get up from your sofa in your pajama pants and run through a wall for that man.

Of course, coach Tony D'Amato is not merely a master motivator. He's a two-time Pantheon Cup winner, an old school Lombardi-esque acolyte with a condensed playbook but full belief in the plays that he runs. Even so, the game threatens to pass by everyone at one point or another, and this has happened to Coach D. Thus, the solution: the organization hires a new offensive coordinator, whiz kid Nick Crozier (Aaron Eckhart). "We paid a lot of money to get Nick Crozier here from Minnesota specifically to modernize this offense," declares Christina Pagniacci (Cameron Diaz), the devil-may-care bitch of an owner. In the "Any Given Sunday" screenplay Crozier is described thusly: "40s, star offensive coordinator, in his first year here, handsome, a comer."

Lane Kiffin isn't quite in his 40s (he's 38) but that description might well fit him to a tee. He was a star offensive coordinator at USC, and this directly led to him landing head coaching jobs with the Oakland Raiders (he was fired), the Tennessee Volunteers (he ditched after a year) and the USC Trojans (he was fired). He may have been a gifted strategist, but as a CEO and a motivator of men he was clearly lacking. He could wear one mask, not the other.

Aaron Eckart kinda looks like Lane Kiffin. I'm not the only to make this comparison. It's appropriate, and it's appropriate because Nick Crozier's got more than a little of the Kiffin in him. He may be a star offensive coordinator but, like any coordinator, his eyes are on the top prize. He even goes to Christina Pagniacci behind Tony's back to hint that he is receiving offers from other teams, and Christina feints toward revealing that Crozier is coach-in-waiting upon Tony getting the inevitable heave-ho. But.

The Inspirational Locker Room Speech. You will notice a shot. It's an incredible shot, albeit a brusque shot, but it is unforgettable, unveiling truths important to anyone contemplating Nick Crozier as Head Coach. D'Amato's speech starts slow, as if he's improvising, and maybe he is, and then rises, gathering like a fleet of nimbus clouds ready to detonate a deluge. It's a Rockne-esque recitation of cliche, jam-packed with references to football being a game of inches. "If I'm gonna have any life anymore," D'Amato intones, "it's because I'm still willing to fight and die for that inch. Because that's what living is." And man, does he hit living. "Because that's what LIVING is! The six inches in front of your face!" And as he hollers "the six inches in front of your face!", he stares down his own right hand, like the two of 'em are about to go a round. And then the camera cuts to the scene's single shot of Crozier. This shot.

That's a man thinking: "Holy shit." And: "What the hell is happening?" And: "This isn't in 'Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life.'" And: "How on earth is he pulling this off? Where in the world did he summon the sense of drama?" And: "I have no idea how to do what he's doing. Absolutely none." And: [Gulp.]

He's a man not ready to be Head Coach. Which is probably why Christina hires him at the end of the movie.


Alex Withrow said...

Oh shit, this is a truly excellent post. I love that we're the type of bloggers who choose to craft an entire post around one look.

Crozier, man... that dude has a long road ahead of him.

Nick Prigge said...

Amen, man. I wish more people would craft entire posts around one look, or something of the random variety. So many movies are packed with little moments like this one.