Draft Day Review
THE THRILLS & POLITICS OF THE NFL DRAFT
Of all the various sport films that Hollywood has created over the years, football themed movies have had a few memorable ones worth noting. These standout cinematic features of pig skinned ball players can range from high school (Friday Night Lights), to college (Rudy), to racial equality (Remember the Titans), to underdogs (Invincible), and to the professional league (Any Given Sunday). Director Ivan Reitman now spins a new thread in the football movies tapestry with the movie Draft Day. Can this film be just as memorable as other gridiron films of Hollywood or is should this movie simply go undrafted?
Set on the day of the 1st round of the NFL draft pick, Cleveland Brown’s GM Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) is in for a rough day. His team has the 7th overall pick and is looking into several athletic prospects. However, after a gutsy bargain, Weaver gets the 1st pick of the draft; a coveted position that carries an almost certainty with the Browns acquiring the all-star QB hopeful Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). Though most are happy with this proposition, including Brown owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) and Vince Penn, recent new head coach of the Browns (Dennis Leary), Weaver begins to second guess himself; not quite sure that the most favored choice is the right one. With pressure mounting and the countdown to the draft inching closer, the question that’s on everyone’s mind: Who is Sonny Weaver Jr. gonna pick?
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Upon first glance (And even during the film), it’s easy to make the comparison between Draft Day and 2011’s Moneyball. Granted that both films shows showcase two different sports (One baseball, one football), however, both explore the “Behind-the-scenes / Front office” management aspects of each sport; making the pair different from other sport related films of the past. What separates them from each other is the way that they were approached when filming. Moneyball, in truth, was more of an “Oscar-bait” film; taking a more high brow approach with its analytical theme of using statistics of a struggling baseball team. To its credit, it worked; garnishing several nominated spots at the Oscars that year, but lacked that quality of excitement and fun and feeling sort of “Humdrum” from beginning to end.
Director Ivan Reitman, famous for directing such films as Ghostbusters and Stripes, takes a different approach with Draft Day: offering a more fun approach to this football story that’s pleasantly enjoyable. Front office deals and personnel conversations in various offices and team “War Rooms” are the main thing in the movie as Reitman shows viewers the “Pressure Cooker” feel and the inherit recruitment hype of the NFL Draft. Interestingly, the movie has a “24-esque” undertone; taking place during the course of one day with a ticking clock countdown to start of the draft that shows up a various parts. Also adding to that undertone is the usage of a frame split-screen when characters make phones calls. It’s a fun visual to use with characters crossing over that imaginary split-screen line at times, while, other times, being overtaken and pushed out of the screen by the other person. The film has plenty of comedic scenes throughout (Some of which are quite funny), but not so much that it loses its dramatic integrity and seriousness when it needs to be. All in all, it’s unlikely that Draft Day will end up in the “Best Picture” category at the Oscars, but, at the end of the day, that’s okay by me.
Unlike most football films, Draft Day was blessed by the NFL; giving creative license to Reitman and his team to used their team names, city locales, and old footage from past NFL games for the movie. Given the team’s history of “W’s and L’s” and its disgruntled fans, the choice for using the Cleveland Browns as the main team for the film is, for lack of a better word, perfect; a true underdog story of a team that has been (Professionally) been an underdog in real life. So, of course, Browns fans will definitely like this film and probably hoping that their current GM (Ray Farmer) can pull the same “Hat trick” deals and gutsy calls that Sonny Weaver Jr. does in the movie when the actual NFL Draft comes around. Other football team locales are shown; jumping viewers to and from Seattle, Jacksonville, Houston, Kansas City, and Buffalo with their city’s team stadium shown respectfully.
Where the move gets messy (And somewhat falters a tad) is in its narrative structure. There are a lot of side characters and subplots that interwoven into Draft Day’s story as some are more fleshed out, while some are pushed a little to the wayside. Story threads of a secret love, grieving woes, new vs. old frictions, and concerns between a “Hot pick” and an “Overlooked” are tethered together with some pacing problems. Moneyball had the same problem as well with a sprawling cast and not enough time to bring each story into the main foreground. Draft Day, unfortunately treads down that very same path.
Kevin Costner has a good run at the movies in 2014. There was first the spy thriller Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, then the action flick 3 Days to Kill, and now Costner returns to his sport film roots with Draft Day. Like with all his movies, Costner has that likeable quality he brings to his characters and his portrayal of Sonny is no different. He hits his mark at the right time, balancing a palette of light humor, vulnerability, and seriousness when it is need. Jennifer Garner plays Ali, Sonny’s lead financial executive who also has a secret office affair with Sonny as well. Unfortunately, their relationship isn’t that convincing; sharing little romantic chemistry with Costner, who is more than a decade or so older than her. Perhaps if they casted someone older for Costner or someone younger for Garner, it might’ve worked. That being said, Garner is pretty enough with her looks, snappy enough with her sports knowledge and witty enough to bring a feminine levity to a film that is predominantly filled with male actors. Frank Langella does a pretty good job as Browns owner Anthony Molina; emulating a familiar Dallas Cowboy owner (Jerry Jones) with a heavy dose of arrogance and loftiness to his character. Running along those same lines is Dennis Leary’s character Coach Vince Penn. His character also has a lofty attitude (with a Super Bowl ring to prove it) and some of Leary’s best scenes are when he goes up against Sonny’s skepticism and future prospects for their football team.
The film also has a big supporting cast; an abundance of recognizable faces from various movies and T.V shows can be seen at different points in the movie. This includes Chadwick Boseman (42), Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream), Sam Elliot (Tombstone), David Ramsey (Arrow), Patrick St. Espirt (Sons of Anarchy), Wade Williams (Prison Break), Kevin Dunn (Transformers), Griffin Newman (Political Animals), Chi Mcbride (Boston Public), and Tom Welling (Smallville). These actors served as minor roles, but, no matter how big a splash they make in the movie, it seems clear that they had fun and enjoyed being part of Reitman’s project.
Again, with the NFL partaking in this project, Draft Day also incorporates several football celebrities to make cameo appearances through the film. Playing themselves on-screen are Chris Berman, Rich Isen, John Gruden, Deion Sanders, and even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell joins in the fun, while Houston Texans Running Back Adrian Foster portrays fictional character Ray Jennings, a young draftee hopeful who wants to join the Browns and follow in his father’s footsteps Earl Jennings (Played by actor Terry Crews). Their inclusion makes the film feel that more authentic; scoring bonus points in my liking towards this movie (as I’m sure it will with other football fans).
The likeability of the movie Draft Day comes down to one fundamental question: Do you like football? People who don’t find an interest in the sport might come away from the movie thinking that it is nothing more than a glorified product placement film for the NFL. On the other hand, those who embrace their inner hunger for all things football will thoroughly enjoy this sport drama that surrounds the first day of the NFL Draft. For me personally, I choose the latter choice as it is a “Can’t Miss” film for football diehards. Though it closely resembles the film Moneyball (sharing its problems as well), Draft Day is a great film that’s (Honestly) more fun and entertaining than its analytical baseball counterpart. High stakes, good acting, big laughs, and various cameo appearances makes Ivan Reitman’s film an excellent sport flick to see.