Starring: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Josh Pence, Chadwick Boseman, Terry Crews, Ellen Burstyn, Arian Foster, Tom Welling
2014 seems to be the year of Kevin Costner. It’s only April and he has already been featured in three releases, though I must admit I didn’t see either Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit or 3 Days to Kill. I am happy to witness this Costner resurgence – he seemed to have taken a break from acting – since his performance in last year’s Man of Steel was one of that film’s better aspects. We have seen him in numerous baseball films, one golf movie, and one about bike racing. Now he tackles the game of football. As my dad said to me, “He does really well with sports movies.”
When it rains, it pours for Sonny Weaver, Jr (Costner). He is the manager of the Cleveland Browns and nothing seems to be going well in his life. His current quarterback (Welling) has been having knee issues and his father, the previous coach of the team, recently passed away. His girlfriend, Ali (Gardner), just happens to be the salary cap manager for the team, so they are trying to keep their relationship a secret, but she chooses the morning of draft day to inform Sonny she is pregnant.
The clock counts down the twelve hours leading up to that vital moment when the draft picks are announced. The pressure is all on Sonny as the general manager to get the team back in shape because they haven’t been the same since his father stopped coaching. Sonny and the team’s new coach (Leary) don’t always see eye to eye. Sonny starts trading pick positions with various teams in the NFL, giving up spots in the future that could be the key to their growth. It should go without saying that the coach and the team’s owner (Langella) wholeheartedly disagree with his decisions. Sonny must decide who his first pick is going to be. There is the all-American quarterback Bo Callahan (Pence), who has an impeccable record, Vontae Mack (Bozman), the dark horse with a bad reputation due to his loud mouth, and a running back (Jenning) whose father (Crews) used to play for the Browns. The images and reputations of these young gentlemen come into play as Sonny must decide on the fate of his team.
I should just point out that this is not your average football movie. This is not about some scrappy team full of misfits who can barely play and end up in the hands of an alcoholic coach who then turns them into a winning team. We have seen that movie over and over again, and it’s refreshing to see them take a more original approach to a sports movie. Draft Day takes a look into the business aspect of the game. Football fans should be happy to know Costner has stated that the NFL was in full cooperation with the film. They use real teams in the film and professional players make cameos in the film. I know nothing about football except what I’ve seen in Varsity Blues, Jerry Maguire, and “Friday Night Lights”. However, while I know very little about the game, I was still able to follow along and enjoy the movie. Despite the short time period the film covers, screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph do a decent job of setting up where Costner’s character is coming from and why the stakes are so high for him. That being said, I wish they would have written more for Ellen Burstyn, who plays Costner’s mom. She is such a terrific actress who is only left with a couple of scenes that don’t get to show her off.
You might be surprised to find out that Ivan Reitman directed a sports movie. Yes, the man who brought us both Ghostbusters films, Dave, Stripes, and three Arnold Schwarzenegger comedies is taking a stab at football. While there is some humor in it, I wouldn’t consider this a comedy nor do I ever feel like his comedic skills as a director are used. The film tries to take this serious, edge-of-your-seat tone as there is a countdown clock that appears throughout as we get closer to draft time. The use of split screens for phone conversations and the way one “slides” in after the next seem like tactics to keep the pace and tension up, but are frankly used far too often. Reitman has gathered himself a pretty decent cast who for the most part, seem believable in this world. Frank Langella can easily play the hot-shot owner. Costner has this way of making so many of his characters likable and relatable. He is one of the reasons why this movie works so well. His character is flawed and has problems, but you still end up rooting for him and understanding him. The character could have easily been this jerk in someone else’s hands. It’s nice to see him in this sort of role again as he clearly anchors the film. Speaking of jerk characters, Denis Leary wears that hat easily as the Browns football coach. He’s really the only cast member I go back and forth on. I don’t know if I necessarily buy Leary as a football coach, but he can easily play the angry bad guy who everyone is rooting against.
I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by this movie. Like I admitted earlier, my knowledge of football is very limited, and I have never paid attention to the NFL draft. I was concerned if I would understand this movie or if it would be way over my head. Draft Day succeeds at making it accessible to those who don’t know the sport as well as keeping it enjoyable for those die-hard fans who know the sport inside and out.
Director: Ivan Reitman