Launched exclusively on Amazon Prime, NFL Films’ latest offering is a behind-the-scenes documentary charting the Arizona Cardinals 2015 season. The Cardinals have very realistic aspirations of making it all the way to Superbowl 50 and we follow them from inside the locker-room, inside the coaches and GM’s offices and inside the players homes. It sounds like a die-hard NFL fan’s dream, but it isn’t just for fanatics, All or Nothing is suitable, accessible viewing for those who don’t know the difference between a Post Route and a HB slam, or think that the Sam, Will and Mike Position are musical siblings.
The eight episodes clip along at quite a pace: The standard format focuses on three games per one-hour episode, along with excerpts from training, coaching and media interviews as well as an insight into the private lives of one or more players.
An ongoing trial of of any sports team is the meshing together of differing personalities and outlooks; across the series we get to know a fair few Cardinals, including rookie running back David Johnson, veteran megastar Larry Fitzgerald, and up-and-coming star defender Tyrann Mathieu, among others, all different people united behind the common goal of earning a Superbowl ring.
A few of the defensive players, Mathieu included, are exactly how you expect an NFL star to be: loud, brash and fiercely passionate, always keen to try and rile up team mates. For a superstar, Fitzgerald is almost the exact opposite of what you expect: quiet, unassuming, thoughtful. Johnson is what you expect from a rookie: quiet, keeping his head down, saying all the right things when asked, but with a coolness of character which suggests that none of this has come too quickly for him.
And at the top is Head Coach, Bruce Arians, who swears like Malcolm Tucker, but without any trace of maliciousness. He is stern, but fair, demanding a lot from his players, but he clearly cares a lot about all of them.
If the pace of the series is a little too quick, you truly appreciate it all the more when it slows down. Episode seven is dedicated exclusively to the Cardinal’s play-off encounter with the Green Bay Packers, and is truly essential viewing. Complete with excellent editing and a stirring soundtrack it has all the tension and drama of a great sports movie, only it all actually happened. It had my pulse racing, and I already knew everything that was going to happen.
All or Nothing leaves you wanting more. More time spent in training with the players, more game-time footage, more getting to know the men who partake in the modern day equivalent of gladiatorial combat. Fans wanting more time with the Head coaches and GM as they build a team will be disappointed to know that the entire 2015 preseason is breezed through in about fifteen minutes; again leaving the desire for more depth, more draft, more contract negotiations, more scouting and once the season starts more play calling and more technical information, but wanting more of something isn’t necessarily a criticism and I appreciate that NFL Films and Amazon want a product which is accessible to the casual or even non-fan. Hardcore NFL nuts will lap up any product they can get anyway, and All or Nothing is certainly worth blitzing though.
If the only major criticism is hardly a criticism at all, then there are some minor quibbles. Mad Men’s Jon Hamm is a good narrator, but his script is too prone to cliché. Most episodes feature one or several motivational speeches from coaches or players to each other but hearing the tenth very similar speech from the same person to the same group of people causes you to lose interest. And this is the nice, glossy, sanitised, P.R friendly output the NFL is keen on, the face it wants to show the world rather than the its true face from behind closed doors. There is swearing, sure, but nothing shocking, nothing you wouldn’t have thought was coming. Anything that could have invited the slightest bit of controversy left on the cutting room floor.
The scenes where we get to know the players mix happiness and sadness as we get their personal ups and downs across the season. Pat Peterson’s wife gives birth and David Johnson plans his wedding, but team president Mike Bidwill’s dog battles a terminal illness and Mathieu battles a season ending injury. There is humour too, in the camaraderie of the team and anecdotes players share about team mates – and a highlight, Quarterback Carson Palmer leading a discussion about which team mates he’d sign for his (fictional) basketball team.
As an NFL fan the best and worst thing about All or Nothing is how much it makes you wish September was here already; and the second worst thing about it is how much you want more of it. In any case, and if you follow the NFL or not, what NFL Films and Amazon have created is a must watch series for fans of any sport.