My only requirement before seeing Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day was that it be more enjoyable than this past year’s Super Bowl XLVIII, where the Seattle Seahawks decimated the Denver Broncos 43-8. Granted the bar was not set very high; meaning as long as I didn’t slip into a coma, it passed. The film is carried by Kevin Costner, returning to his sports genre roots, and was directed by Ivan Reitman, on a script co-written by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph, whose writing credits for feature films are quite sparse.
Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) is the General Manager (GM) of the notoriously lousy Cleveland Browns and he has only twelve hours until the 2014 NFL Draft begins. With something to prove to himself, his father’s ghost, his team, and the city of Cleveland, he sets out to reconstruct his ailing team. When an unexpected proposition falls in his lap, from the GM of the Seattle Seahawks, he makes a risky trade that grants him the number one pick at the upcoming draft. He spends the next several hours carrying around a football (just in case we forgot this was a film about football) and contemplates if his pick should be the Heisman trophy winner Quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), that every team wants, or Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman), whom he’s always had his eye on. Despite inputs and verbal lashings from the team’s owner, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), the team’s Coach Penn (Dennis Leary), his pseudo girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner), and his own mother (Ellen Burstyn), he makes his own decision, with just a few minutes to spare.
Kevin Costner does a fine job in Draft Day. He nails the nuances of a determined GM who cares deeply about the fate of his team and is more motivated by doing what is right than what everyone else wants. He shows a softer side in some of his scenes with Ali, and in other scenes executes temper tantrums, like throwing his intern’s laptop into the wall, with tremendous gusto.
Draft Day has a very large cast and even some cameos from NFL legends. But this is Costner’s film and the supporting actors interchangeably rotate around him. Dennis Leary plays true to type, an annoying, in your face guy, who says what he feels and thinks no matter what. Jennifer Garner walks the line of an intelligent salary cap analyst who is still sleeping with her boss. Her performance is reminiscent of her role in Dallas Buyers Club, both solid and supporting. However, it’d be nice to see her land a lead role in a future film and quit lurking in the shadows.
The majority of Draft Day involves scenes where Sonny is on the phone with different NFL GMs. Rather than use muddled voice-over, Reitman chooses to intercut these scenes. That is the wiser choice, since more than half the film involves the telephone. But rather than jump back and forth from location to location, Reitman uses a split screen instead. I can’t figure out why he opted to use a device that is a throwback to 1970’s filmmaking. Using it once or twice may be forgivable, but after the fifth time it becomes an irritant and only throws the viewer out of the narrative.
To make matters worse, when he cuts from the end of the telephone conversation to either a new scene or back to the original scene location, he accomplishes these types of transitions by using wipes. After a while, the film starts to resemble a Microsoft PowerPoint Tutorial given at an adult education class.
Draft Day can’t help but fall victim to the Hollywood formula machine. Somebody wanted to make a film about the NFL Draft and ratchet up the drama, as if this day signals the world’s end. But an Exec somewhere must have decided that the film was missing heart, and therefore enter the melodramatic love story. The problem being that, I barely got my box of Junior Mints open before I knew that Ali was… drumroll please… pregnant. Don’t worry, this isn’t a spoiler, since it’s revealed within the first five minutes and even the shittiest Las Vegas Mentalist, who performs off the strip, could have seen that coming. Couple that with the fact that Sonny’s father passed away the week before the draft, and his mother insists they need to spread his ashes on… drumroll please… Draft Day, and you end up with a football film relying on cheesy daytime soap opera clichés.
There is a scene early on in the film, where Sonny has a meeting with Anthony, the Cleveland Browns’ owner. Anthony is obviously wealthy and likes to impart his wisdom and team wishes in a passive aggressive way. His character is supposed to be a prick, but a formidable prick. His goal is to influence Sonny and terrify him that if he messes up the draft, he’s most likely out of a job. Then why does Anthony choose to have his meeting with Sonny at a closed water park? It’s hinted that Anthony owns this water park, so obviously he’s a titan of industry. But the scene doesn’t fit with the rest of the film, which is shot predominantly at the Brown’s facility. Perhaps, this water park needed some marketing of its own. Either way, I’m still going to Atlantis when I want to drop fifty feet and land in a pool of questionably chlorinated water.
If you don’t mind being subjected to what really is a two-hour marketing campaign for the NFL and your spring flag football league is just not cutting it, then Draft Day is for you. If you’d rather save yourself $12, then Netflix Rudy and call it a day.
Take a Drink: every time the countdown clock to the draft is shown on screen.
Take a Drink: every time they show an NFL stadium and superimpose the title of the team on the screen.
Take a Drink: every time a split screen is used during a telephone conversation.
Do a Shot: every time Coach Penn (Dennis Leary) flashes his NFL Super Bowl ring.
Shogun a Beer: every time Sonny and Ali have a meeting in the office supplies closet.