Speeches from Film: Any Given Sunday

Today we look at a powerful speech by Al Pacino in the movie, Any Given Sunday. The premise for the movie (and the speech) is pretty simple: Pacino is the coach of a once-great football team that is now riddled with injuries and internal dissension, and is struggling to make the playoffs.

Prior to the big game, Pacino has to give a speech to his players that will motivate them to put aside their differences and work together as a team.

Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday

It’s a wonderfully crafted speech and delivered perfectly by Pacino. It’s no wonder that he is widely recognized as one of the best actors of his generation. Have a look and then we’ll discuss it.

Powerful stuff. And don’t kid yourself – there is a lot in there that we can use in our own speeches. (Except, perhaps, the locker room language, although you never know when the situation will call for it.)

What I liked

  • Pacino takes the team on a roller coaster of emotions. He starts slowly and builds to a crescendo before taking his players down again. He then takes them up and down twice more. Audiences want to go on a journey. Take them.
  • He repeats the key word in the speech – “inch” – not once, not twice, but 13 times. Repetition is a powerful tool to drive home your message.
  • He uses tricolons – sets of three similar phrases or words – at least four times: 1:15, 2:15, 2:20 and 3:20. Using triples is a powerful technique to make an idea stick in your audience’s mind.
  • Al Pacino speaks with genuine emotion and exposes himself on the human level.
  • He uses well-timed gestures: “We claw with our finger nails for that inch!”
  • Al Pacino uses contrasts to create powerful lines: hell and the light; winning and losing; living and dying.
  • He ends with a call to action: “What are you gonna do?”

Those are some of the thing that made the speech memorable for me.

Suggestions? Well, I know that it was scripted this way for the movie, but I would not have had Al Pacino holding his play sheet. If you watch the video again, you will see that there are times when he is passing the paper from hand to hand and otherwise playing with it. Not a major thing, to be sure, but some might find it distracting.

Write your speech like a poem

Before concluding, I would like you to do one more thing. Below is the text of Al Pacino’s speech. I’d like you to play the video again but read along with the text. Note how I have written it.

That is how you should write out your speeches.

Winston Churchill said that a speech is poetry without form or rhyme. He believed that it should not be written for reading, but rather for the way the audience will hear it. In memorable phrases.

Note the words that end each line below. They are almost all significant and the pauses that follow them allow the ideas to sink in.

Even if you do not read your speech, crafting it this way will help you formulate your ideas, choose the right words and deliver them with the right cadence, emotion and emphasis.

Try it for your next speech. I promise that you will notice a difference.

Al Pacino Speech

I don’t know what to say really.

Three minutes,
to the biggest battle of our professional lives,
all comes down to today.

Now either,
we heal as a team,
or we’re gonna crumble.

Inch by inch,
play by play,
till we’re finished.

We’re in hell right now, gentlemen.
Believe me.

we can stay here and get the shit kicked out of us.
we can fight our way back … into the light.

We can climb out of hell.

One inch, at a time.

Now, I can’t do it for you.
I’m too old.

I look around, I see these young faces and I think,
I made every wrong choice a middle age man can make.

I pissed away all my money, believe it or not.
I chased off anyone who’s ever loved me.
And lately, I can’t even stand the face I see in the mirror.

You know, when you get old in life,
things get taken from you.
That’s part of life.
But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.

You find out life’s this game of inches.
So is football.
Because in either game,
life or football,
the margin for error is so small.

I mean,
One half step too late or too early,
and you don’t quite make it.
One half second too slow, too fast,
you don’t quite catch it.

The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They’re in ever break of the game.
Every minute, every second.

On this team, we fight for that inch.
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch.
We claw with our finger nails for that inch!

Because we know,
when we add up all those inches,
that’s gonna make the fucking difference between winning and losing!

Between living and dying!

I’ll tell you this:
In any fight,
it’s the guy who’s willing to die
who’s gonna win that inch.

And I know,
if I’m gonna have any life anymore,
it’s because, I’m still willing to fight and die for that inch
Because that’s what living is!
The six inches in front of your face!

Now I can’t make you do it!
You gotta look at the guy next to you.
Look into his eyes!

Now I think
you’re gonna see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You’re gonna see a guy who will sacrifice himself for this team
because he knows when it comes down to it,
you’re gonna do the same for him.

That’s a team, gentlemen.

And, either we heal – now! – as a team!
Or we will die as individuals.

That’s football guys.
That’s all it is.

Now, what are you gonna do?

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  1. Wow! I never thought of writing a speech like a poem, but I’m going to give it a try for my next Toastmasters speech. Thanks for the tip. I’m going to pay a lot more attention to ‘speeches’ in movies from now on!!! Terrific work on this blog, as always John. (I used to talk to you once in a while on Twitter, back when I used the @JustObserving handle. I deleted that account and now go by @BrianCSimpson; and I tweet for my Toastmasters club as @CapitalCityTM.) I’ve added your blog to our blogroll. 🙂

    1. Brian, thanks very much for the comment and kind words. I have always written my speeches this way and paid close attention to the endings of the lines because those are the words on which the emphasis is placed. If you try this out, do let us know how it goes.
      I will follow you on your new Twitter account.

  2. Poetry is a great way to give a speech. It helps to flow and dramatize it in a way that’s moving to your audience and yourself. Great!

  3. This is just what I am looking for. I am using this as a guide to give my oral interpretation speech tomorrow! Thanks!

  4. I am working on doing crisper evaluations, so this helped me out a lot. I really like the idea of thinking how a movie impacts us, or moves us, and applying that same feedback to a speech we have just heard. I am going to try to incorporate that tonight in my evaluation. Thanks. I am definitely bookmarking this blog!

    1. Pam, thank you for the comments. I am glad that you found the post helpful. Let me know how the evaluation goes.
      Speeches from film are interesting. Because they are staged, they come out perfectly (and usually with music!). Real life isn’t like that. Nonetheless, because speeches from movies are so scripted, they can often give us insights into what we should be aiming for.

  5. Twenty years on from Scent of a Woman and another amazing speech by Pacino. Yes, these are scripted for movies, but his speech from “Scent” remains in my memory long after the viewing. I did note the repetition and the building of emotions. His closing line is simple but leaves little doubt in the minds of his audience – action.
    Thanks, John, for sharing.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Toni. Pacino is, indeed, one of the greats. Even if, as you say, the speeches are scripted for movies, there is still a lot that we can learn from them. (Just think about how much have learned–and continue to learn–from Shakespeare!) “Scent of a Woman” is one of my favourite movies and I too vividly remember that final speech. Perhaps the subject of a future post …
      Hope all is well.

  6. Great analysis! I would like to add the importance of vocal variety. Viewers of the movie might say, “Well, he’s an actor…” I’d say they do not have a point. Authenticity on stage requires to be yourself. Why then exclusively exclude your voice from the authenticity rules? In fact, I’d recommend you use your voice exactly like Al does. When you are angry, be angry. When you are sad, be sad. When you are happy, be happy. Reflect all emotions on stage just the way you do in a bar talking to your best friend. That is authenticity. Be Al, be authentic!

    1. Great comment, Florian. I think that many speakers, for whatever reason, miss out on connecting with their audiences because they are not themselves. They are not authentic. Great advice!

  7. Al Pacino is my all time favorite. Is there a way to contact him? I have tried but don’t know how. I have a possible film in mind that has been with me for 30 years. A love story during The Holocaust, about my parents who were Jewish and how they survived the war.

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