The biggest problem with “Draft Day” is that the penultimate event, the NFL Draft, doesn’t start until the last thirty minutes of the movie. As soon as Sonny Weaver’s (Kevin Costner) Cleveland Browns are on the clock, the movie is fantastic. The dialogue, the pace, the cinematography, all create an intense atmosphere that is far more thrilling than the actual NFL Draft.
It’s a shame that “Draft Day” didn’t get to the NFL Draft sooner. The rest of the movie doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Is this a workplace romance story? Is this a dramedy created by the pressure surrounding Sonny’s job? Is this a sports drama focusing on the importance of heart, determination, and grit of those playing the sport?
Sonny Weaver is the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, which essentially means he has one of the worst jobs in professional sports. The Browns are a disaster, coming off a 6-10 season which has landed them the seventh pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. To make matters worse, Sonny fired his father, Sonny Weaver Sr., who was one of the most beloved coaches in Cleveland Browns history.
Throw in an owner (Frank Langella) that expects Sonny to turn water to wine, along with an angry mob/fan base and the pressure on Sonny is reaching critical mass.
There is also this tiny matter of Sonny’s girlfriend, Ali (Jennifer Garner). Not only is she a lawyer that works in the Browns front office, she’s pregnant. The two of them have tried to keep their workplace romance a secret for obvious reasons, most of which being the fact that Sonny is easily twenty years her senior.
There are two players that Sonny and the Browns are looking at drafting. One is Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman), a linebacker, and the other is Ray Jennings (real life NFL running back Arian Foster), a running back whose father (Terry Crews) played for the Browns. The Golden Goose in the draft is quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Bo Callahan (Josh Spence), who everyone believes to be the no brainer, slam dunk first pick.
The panic sets in when Sonny trades three number one picks to move up to the first spot in the draft, thus setting off a firestorm of rumors circling around what the Browns are going to do with their choice.
For a hardcore NFL fan, the actual football is quite believable. This is probably due to the fact that “Draft Day” is essentially an NFL production. Everyone from Mel Kiper to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to the nails-down-the-chalkboard-annoying Chris Berman show up, which gives the movie a sense of authenticity. It also helps that the back room wheeling and dealing is never too far fetched and seems like actual trades that NFL teams would be okay with making.
There was also an effort to make “Draft Day” widely acceptable, not just for folks that put face paint on and tailgate in celebration of the NFL Draft. When a new team is introduced to the mix, we are shown gorgeous flyover shots of that city and the team’s facilities, complete with subtitles saying things like “Home of the Chiefs”. It becomes tedious, but it’s an effective way to essentially make sure an entire audience is in the loop.
Kevin Costner is essentially on screen for the entirety of the movie and this is one of his better performances. His comedic skills have always been very underrated and he gets plenty of laughs with snark and a wise-guy grin. He’s always charming, even in lesser roles, and without him, “Draft Day” would definitely be a chore.
There is one scene with Costner and the Browns new head coach, Penn (Denis Leary), that may be worth the price of admission. It’s hilariously tense and Garner even gets to throw in the zinger that really steals the scene.
Unfortunately, there just aren’t enough moments like that in “Draft Day”. Director Ivan Reitman is not a stranger to this type of material and he pulls the sappy, underdog lever a few too many times. There is an unnecessary subplot involving Sonny and his mother (Ellen Burstyn) that grinds the movie to a halt and serves little purpose, other than it being an obvious attempt at reaching out to the female audience.
The biggest mistake Reitman makes involves some odd split screen special effects when Sonny makes phone calls. Granted, much of “Draft Day” involves Sonny on the phone with various characters, but the way in which actors are walking from each side of the screen, sometimes on top of another character who is thousands of miles away is very distracting.
“Draft Day” is an example of a sports movie that is trying to do too much in an effort to get a larger audience. For example, there is too much time devoted to the romance with Sonny and Ali and not enough with Boseman’s Mack, who may be the most compelling character in the entire film.
To keep with the theme of the movie, “Draft Day” isn’t the overall number one pick. It’s more like a second rounder that isn’t going to meet the potential that it should have. Although, it does score many, many points for taking a shot at NFL bust Ryan Leaf. You really can’t go wrong doing that.