BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
SEPTEMBER 2, 2014
Before watching “Draft Day”, an exert from a David Denby, New Yorker review resonated in my mind: “Ivan Reitman’s dull-witted movie about the flurries of player trading on N.F.L. draft day might be a commercial for professional football.” Now, I did not find the film as “dull-witted” as David found it to be, but the fact that it “might be a commercial for professional football” definitely rings true. With the N.F.L. logo brandished everywhere including the poster of the film, one never forgets that this is professional football. By the end of the film, there was an excitement to watch some actual football, even though the most I follow the sport is during the Super Bowl. Props must also be given to the studio for the timing of the home video release of this film, as is coincides perfectly with the start of the 2014-2015 football season.
With plenty of sports films under his belt, like “Bull Durham” and “Field Of Dreams”, Kevin Costner takes the reigns of “Draft Day” as Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. Another review comes to mind with the perfect notion, this one from Reggie Hayes of The News-Sentinel, in which he proclaims “I’m glad to see Kevin Costner move up and into the front office.” He does realize his age stops him from being the guy out on the field, but in doing so, brings a big star dynamic to the inner workings of the game instead.
Beginning on the morning of the N.F.L. draft day and leading up to the first picks of the draft, there is an excitement built around the premise, as you get to know the players in contention, including Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) as a defensive player who wants desperately to be drafted by the Browns. You also get to know the behind-the-scenes management, including the Browns coach, Vince Penn, played aggressively by Denis Leary, the salary cap lawyer Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner) who is also dating Weaver, and Weaver’s mother, Barb (Ellen Burstyn) who guilts her son like the best of them. Reitman expertly weaves together an entire roster of characters to add a sense of mystery to the pending draft picks and to allow the audience different people to root for.
Most of the film is a series of phone calls and debating about what deals to make and what players to get, with the conflict arising from differing points of view. Some of the sideline stories include a pregnancy within the office, the recent death of Weaver’s father, and the future of the Browns franchise being on the line. As exciting as the film gets while building around the draft, the pool of characters is still so small that many of the twists and one-two punches are telegraphed by lingering on small supporting characters that will become more active in some of the revelations of the film.
Where the audience eventually feels cheated is at the end of the film. Imagine getting to know this stellar cast of characters, who represent the best in football as well as all the tough decisions Weaver must make for the future of his franchise. Next, imagine him putting together his “dream team” and watching them all gear up, ready to show what they are made of out on the field. Now, imagine everything ending abruptly. Credits roll. Although there is a definite climax to the film, there is something about a sports film that never steps out on the astroturf that feels like a cop-out, offering what feels like a zero payoff.
For those that follow the N.F.L. closely, the actual draft probably produces the same entertainment value that the film “Draft Day” offers to non-fans or dabblers. In creating that excitement, Reitman’s film is like a 110 minute commercial for the N.F.L., telling those casual watchers what they could be experiencing if they gave themselves over. And honestly, it is successful, allowing that payoff that I was missing from the film because, at the end of the real N.F.L. draft, you get to see the teams step out on the field and play an entire season, with the true climax coming six months later in the form of the Super Bowl. Although I am not quite a football fan yet, because of “Draft Day” I might just well be on my way.
April 11, 2014
(for brief strong language and sexual references)
Dana E. Glauberman