Release: Friday, April 11, 2014
“A sports metaphor.”
There, I did it. I’ve gotten that out of my system, and now no one can call me out for not including at least one in a review for a football-related movie. Now, to get down to the x’s and o’s.
Kevin Costner is as amiable as ever as he becomes Sonny Weaver, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns in this odd dramatization of the process through which college players are selected to play in the pros. The film takes place over the course of a single day — I won’t tell you what day that is, because that is a massive spoiler. . . — and it establishes Costner’s character as the conduit through which all of the big day’s events, emotions and energy will flow.
Directed by some guy who busted a bunch of ghosts back in 1984, Draft Day is his opportunity to shed some light upon an area of the sport perhaps even many hardcore football fanatics would like to know more about. Before placing players on the field, some key executive decisions must be made before and during the drafting process which will determine who those will be. It wasn’t necessarily Reitman’s duty to provide us an action-packed football drama. In fact, for every football movie that has had it’s share of crazy plays, Draft Day features an equal number of moments that do not feature them, almost as if announcing to the world that a movie that discusses football rather than uses it as a plot device is actually possible.
The lack of quarterback/runningback heroics should hardly cost Reitman ten yards.
Whereas many films make the mistake of jamming as many action sequences together as possible to make the story feel more exciting; or others use the sport as a means of coping with reality (hence, football as a plot device), Draft Day considers all of these options and dispenses with them, opting to get down to fundamentals. Football, like any number of team activities at the professional level, is a business first and a passion second. For once it’s refreshing to witness sports functioning differently in the movies, even if certain realities can turn ugly. . .like knowing that all this movie is going to do is earn the NFL suits even more money, because this does make the game seem enticing and thrilling at the corporate level. There is plenty of drama to be found, but nothing of the “if I don’t make this play I can’t come home for dinner” variety. What passes for excitement and intensity in a movie like this is the direction in which conversations go and what picks are actually made in the draft in the film’s final act.
The events of Draft Day are completely fictionalized, but they transpire in a way that is entirely convincing, and to a somewhat lesser degree, emotionally investing.
Sonny is on the hot seat. It’s a seat so hot in fact, he can’t really sit down in it. The city is desperate to get back to a place where a championship title isn’t a pipe dream. With Sonny’s job on the line thanks to the hawk-like watch of team owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), he must decide what assets he can afford to ditch and what’s worth keeping of his current line-up in order to take the right steps moving forward. But moving forward won’t be easy when his colleagues and players find out what Sonny is prepared to sacrifice in order to get what everyone thinks they want.
In the opening moments, Sonny is made an offer by Seattle Seahawks’ general manager Tom Michaels (Patrick St. Esprit) to trade their top pick in Wisconsin quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), who’s considered as this draft’s most sought-after talent, for three of Cleveland’s future top picks. Not one. Not two. Three years in a row. Keep in mind, a number one pick theoretically could change a team’s fortunes just like that. But what if the supposed star player they bargain for doesn’t deliver? What if he doesn’t fit in? Gets injured quickly? What then?
There’s also the little issue of Sonny’s personal affairs inside and away from the office, as he and his colleague and “friend” Ali (Jennifer Garner) struggle with the idea of making their relationship public. Sonny’s father has also recently passed away. Indeed, there is plenty of drama to endure on this day. Though it does border on shameless and is unavoidable, the product placement and brand recognition isn’t as intrusive at it sounds like it would be because, after all, this is what and where the movie is: it’s effectively a dramatization of the business that determines the futures of young men going into the working world. It’s almost possible to view this as a ‘real world’ film reel. Draft Day is an odd movie because it is filmed so in line with reality; it’s almost a special you might see on SportsCenter for a 10,000th Anniversary edition of the show.
And yet, it retains originality in Kevin Costner’s stalwart portrayal of a man in crisis mode, who saves a football team from almost irreparable damage; it is given personality in the fictitious players who are on the verge of elation or heartbreak depending on whether they get picked this year. The Cleveland Browns seem like a strange place for the film to take place in, and yet, no team is without it’s stretches of despair, confusion, even chaos. So at the same time we want to scoff at the notion of the Browns becoming a cinematic entity, why shouldn’t it have been them?
Draft Day is a competent drama that surprisingly appeals more because it spares little attention to the gridiron. Stuffed with sports jargon, it’s clear to see that it’s crafted to fit a somewhat niche audience, but a general interest in football will make this film a pleasant watch also. This is mostly due to Costner’s appeal. How this guy doesn’t wear a diaper for all of the shit he could lose each minute is beyond comprehension, and at times even humorous. These are aspects you begin to appreciate more about the sport after watching.
Keep an eye out for a number of big names including Ray Lewis, Chris Berman, Arian Foster, Deion Sanders, Mel Kiper and Jon Gruden.
Recommendation: You will totally be forgiven for looking at this as the NFL now invading the silver screen, but there’s more to this story than the corporate giants of football and film taking baths in the monetary exchanges. I mean, they probably did do that, but let’s focus on the fact that a film crew has managed to create a fictional account of a complicated process in the football off-season. No matter how you slice this one up, this is not your traditional sports film and could mean several different things to many different attendees. It’s worth a look for Costner fans, as well. His performance is spectacular.
Running Time: 110 mins.
Quoted: “How is it that the ultimate prize in the most macho sport ever invented is a piece of jewelry?”
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