Review by-Jarrett Leahy
On the day of the NFL draft, Cleveland Browns’ general manager Sonny Weaver makes a huge splash when he trades for the number one overall selection, putting the Browns in line to draft the most heralded quarterback prospect in recent memory, Bo Callahan. However, in the final hours leading up to the draft, last minute background checks are starting to raise some concerns about this “surefire” star. As the clock nears zero, Weaver must decide if the upside of Bo Callahan really is worth mortgaging the team’s entire future.
The National Football League is a massive sports juggernaut that only continues to grow. Adding to the league’s acclaim is the recent explosion in the popularity of fantasy football. More and more football fans are turning to this highly addictive hobby, as it allows them to show off their own managerial skills while possibly winning cash prizes. I suspect this overwhelming adoration for fantasy football was one of the driving factors in the creation of Draft Day, as it is a film that explores the inner workings of a football front office during one of the most exciting times of the off-season, the draft.
Draft Day’s biggest surprise was seeing how much the NFL embraced the film, rolling out the proverbial red carpet, complete with a slew of famous cameos including one from commissioner Roger Goodell. Their expert contributions added a level of reputability to a movie whose melodrama was heightened significantly to help aid the film’s tension and suspense. Unfortunately, Draft Day’s story has a few hiccups, most notably its exaggerated behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealings which felt unrealistic to the point of being almost asinine. Anyone with the most basic knowledge on how the draft works will likely call malarky when they encounter the trades that Cleveland manages to complete. More than a few times, I needed to remind myself this is a Hollywood story.
A Summit Entertainment production, Draft Day is the creation of long-time director Ivan Reitman. When examining the directorial career of Reitman, it has a tale-of-two-resumes look to it, as the same man who gave us the cult comedy classics Meatballs, Stripes, and Ghostbusters is also responsible for Twins, Kindergarten Cop, Junior, Evolution, and My Super Ex-Girlfriend. Reitman’s last effort, No Strings Attached, was a respectably forgettable romantic comedy starring Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher. With Draft Day, Reitman tries to capture the admiration and devotion so many football fans have for the league and the history of the game. Unfortunately, the torrent of reverential tales of lore slowly begin to wear thin. Another troublesome choice was Reitman’s overabundant use of atypical split screens where one character would strangely cross into the other’s screen space. Serving no narrative purpose, I found them to be odd, visual distractions.
Despite its flaws, Draft Day is yet another reminder that Kevin Costner is back, as he takes the character Sonny Weaver and truly makes it his own. Costner’s aura exudes the outward confidence of an NFL executive, but what makes this performance a solid stand out for Costner is his ability, with just a subtle look, to emote the inner anxiety of a man under immense pressure from not only his owner and coaching staff, but from a growing list of personal turmoils that includes the recent death of his father, the Cleveland Browns coaching legend Sonny Weaver Sr.. Aiding Costner is a solid supporting cast that includes veteran actors Jennifer Garner and Denis Leary. Playing Costner’s love interest and the team’s salary cap expert, Garner does a satisfying job infusing some genuine charm into a character that is pretty one-dimensional on paper. And while it was difficult to picture Leary as a Super Bowl winning head football coach, his gift for biting humor does help add a handful of amusing exchanges between his and Costner’s character.
Sports movies always have to walk a tightrope of not coming off as too corny or histrionic, but for as unrealistic and overly melodramatic as Draft Day gets, I’m kind of surprised to admit I didn’t hate it. For this I credit Kevin Costner whose portrayal of charismatic NFL executive Sonny Weaver is the film’s lasting highlight. Draft Day isn’t one of Ivan Reitman’s best efforts, but he’s more than proven he can do a lot worse.-JL