Draft Day (2014) / Drama

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for brief strong language and sexual references
Running Time: 109 min.

Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Ellen Burstyn, Chadwick Boseman, Sean Combs, Patrick St. Esprit, Terry Crews, Josh Pence, Arian Foster, Rosanna Arquette, Roger Goodell, Timothy Simons, Tom Welling, David Ramsey, Wade Williams, Chi McBride, W. Earl Brown, Brad Henke, Griffin Newman, Kevin Dunn
Small role; Chris Berman, Jon Gruden, Mel Kiper, Deion Sanders, Sam Elliott, Rich Eisen, Ray Lewis, Jim Brown, Bernie Kosar
Director: Ivan Reitman
Screenplay: Scott Rothman, Rajiv Joseph

Review published April 6, 2014

Draft Day is a dramatic look at the behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing that goes on among the general managers of all of the teams involved in the National Football League during the annual NFL Draft in which each team must pick college players they aim to use to build up their franchises for future years.  It has become a major event for NFL fans to watch each year, spanning over three days including some highly rated prime time coverage on ESPN,  knowing that each move, each position, can make or break their team for years to come if the wrong players are chosen.

Kevin Costner stars as Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager hired in recent years to turn around the hard-luck Cleveland Browns franchise back to former glory.  The team's owner expects a news-making result that will grab headlines, which means to take highly touted QB, and to do that, he's going to have to trade big to secure the #1 pick in the draft, which means jeopardizing their top picks in future drafts.  The problem is that the Browns already have a franchise quarterback, and Weaver knows it, but if he does what the owner wants, the team will do all its rebuilding without him because he'll be shown the way out. All he wants is finally have a taste of what it's like to reap the fruits of his labor, and he aims to do that no matter what this time around.

Costner is no stranger to sports movies, and in fact, they have been mostly his bread-and-butter movies in his early career that has made him an iconic move star to a sports-loving crowd who may not be into traditional movies.  Draft Day is his first foray into the world of the NFL, and though he isn't a player in this one, he does bring in the requisite confidence and on-screen ease to buy as a GM who feels the squeeze, knowing that his very job is on the line if he can't deliver a "big splash" for his flashy franchise owner.  It may be the weakest of his sports films to date, mostly because it is more about the business of sports rather than about the sport itself (though Moneyball proved that this could also make for a great movie), but Costner is certainly the best part about Draft Day.

Draft Day benefits from the full cooperation of the NFL and ESPN, using the real teams, real logos, real personalities (including a sizable role for NFL commissioner Roger Goodell) playing themselves, and referencing real players in a way that makes an already knowledgeable screenplay seem even more authentic.  Some of the actions performed by the characters strain credibility at times, but not quite to the breaking point of the film's overall entertainment factor.  In addition to Costner looking for his comeback, so is director Ivan Reitman, who has spent nearly two decades churning out films that look promising but ultimately disappoint.  Reitman's main contribution here is to try to take a film that requires a lot of talking heads and phone conversations and make it stay energetic, which he does through a split-screen process that has a unique aspect of characters crossing out of their side into the center of the action.  While there is a made-for-TV feel to some of the rest of the proceedings, eventually the investment in characterizations and the air of authenticity to how things play out pay off. It's not a home run for either of the parties concerned, but they both give respectable efforts enough to think they still have some talent left in the tank.

If there is a weakness, other than the aforementioned straining of credibility regarding the lack of professionalism behind the scenes, and perhaps a certain made-for-TV feel to its premise, it might be the extraneous characters and storylines that don't add much to the overall plot.  In one instance, Weaver's mother shows up with barely over an hour left before the draft in order to cajole him into saying a few scripted words as she scatters his recently deceased father's ashes over the team's practice field.  In another, Weaver's romantic relationship with his assistant in charge of eyeing the team's moves for potential salary cap issues adds additional tension to an already tense situation, but doesn't really reflect the typical problems that might occur during the day of the NFL draft, other than to give Jennifer Garner more screen time. 

About halfway through, I would have also claimed that Draft Day is also a predictable film, as I knew pretty much how the rest of the story would play out.  Sure enough, nearly everything I had predicted would eventually come to pass, and I had been set on giving Reitman's film a mildly negative review.  However, that's before the film continued beyond past the parts that were predictable to become something more.  I won't say much more upon this so as to not spoil it for those who haven't seen the film, but I will say that the screenplay has a few nifty cards up its sleeve to play from time to time.

It probably goes without saying that your enjoyment of Draft Day will go up exponentially the more a fan of the NFL you are, especially if you're such a fanatic that you'd actually watch live coverage of the NFL Draft to see what college players end up on what pro teams.  Fans of Costner will also enjoy his affable performance, though it's not the sort of thing that will propel him to the forefront of notable actors again just yet; it's not Moneyball, but as far as entertaining and informative sports flicks go, it's still a step in the right direction in showing the man still has chops.  For the non-sports fans, you have to be interested in the the old business strategy of 'art of the deal' and go with the flow, though it's likely that all of the football jargon will probably confuse you, and all of the references to actual players will have far less of an impact on you than it would a true-blue fan of the game. 

Qwipster's rating:

2014 Vince Leo