The NFL in recent years has been something of a tale of two cities: in the first, it's the most popular American sport, eclipsing Baseball after Commissioner Roger Goodell took over in 2006. But it's also seen its fair share of off-field controversy, from concussions to play conduct. The one thing we haven't seen is the process which teams select players in their yearly draft. Draft Day grants us an acceptable view, although its commercialization is blatantly apparent.
Cleveland Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner) has the first pick in the impending NFL Draft, and he's under pressure from his boss (Frank Langella) to select star Quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). The problem is, he must give up three number one future picks to secure him - in his heart, Weaver wants to select fiery Defensive Lineman Vontae Mack (Chadwick Bozeman), but eventually caves to pressure to approve the trade. As his team begins to research Callahan, Weaver learns the player is not all he seems, but realizes his job is at stake if he doesn't commit to Callahan. Shot in the twelve hours before the draft, Weaver must balance intuition with company pressure to make the right choice, just as his co-worker/girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner) springs surprising news.
Director Ivan Reitman isn't known for his steady or memorable work, but here he directs a fairly tight and enjoyable affair, focusing on the game and the excruciating balancing act executives perform prior to the draft. He is a long ways away from his Ghostbuster days, but his quick edits and cut scenes of Weaver on the phone keep the film from becoming too one-sided. With the amount of time people are on the phone in Draft Day, things could have gotten pretty tedious. In addition, the feel-good results should bring wide appeal, even if the story has its issues. This isn't Bull Durham and it's in another country as compared to Field of Dreams, but Writers Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph know this, crafting a passionate message about going with your gut while educating us about the draft itself.
The amount of football greats that grace the screen - from Cleveland's own Jim Brown and Bernie Kosar, to Ray Lewis and Roger Goodell - will either fill you with joy or convince you this might be a commercial for the NFL. We encourage you to not place so much attention on this aspect, as many parts of this feel authentic, with us being transported into this world while life keeps on happening. Weaver's decisions have the weight of real-life consequences, spelling long-term disaster for the franchise, or elevating them back into contention. This engenders us to him, making his decisions as big as any we make. And while Browns fans will love the suggestion that any team can win, this is probably the best news they will see all season, as Weaver deals and then deals again to fill his squad with leaders, while trying to undo the errors of the initial trade. That's a bit far-fetched, but its roll-of-the-dice message should keep moviegoers entertained, at least until the lights come up.
We love the idea of the little guy rising again to former greatness, and Draft Day will ring true for every Browns fan hoping for the same. Reitman's cast is serviceable. For once, Garner's performance doesn't make you long for her ass-kicking days in Alias, while several of the team's secondary actors perform their roles well enough for you to think they're actual football executives. But it's Costner's even attitude and impassioned delivery that serves as this film's anchor. You can see the wear of previous mistakes on his face as he tries to do his team right, even though his boss might have other plans. Costner doesn't need to be perfect here - and rarely is - but his aging good looks and take on Weaver is rewarding enough to keep us engaged. We also liked Boseman and Tom Welling, who aren't on screen often enough - that's probably understandable given how the film works out, but we'd like to see them in more projects.
Draft Day has its flaws, but we think you'll enjoy its big heart anyways. Costner is solid again, and the authenticity of the war room setting is appreciated. The film captures the chaos of this important day, as many teams struggle and gamble their futures upon this one day. You'll want to add this to your "Warm-up to Football Season Viewing Party" list, even though its 80-yard pass for a touchdown is far-fetched.
Draft Day is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and sexual references and has a runtime of 105 minutes.
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