When you think about an actor, there’s usually something that comes to mind immediately. There’s something that the actor embodies, physically or emotionally, that you immediately associate with that person. Tom Hanks is a nice guy. That’s what he is. Christopher Walken is intense and off-kilter. Even when he’s playing it straight, he’s weird. Kevin Costner can probably be best described as casually charming. He’s aged into a sort of nice dad sort of actor; he’s got a world weariness that suggests he’s been through the wringer, but he’s learned from his mistakes and he’s willing to pass along his wisdom, but he’s not going to insist upon himself.
Given his history with athletics in movies, Kevin Costner is the perfect choice to play the role of Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of the hapless, floundering, perennially mediocre Cleveland Browns. He’s got a lot on his plate. His father has passed away recently. His girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner) just told him she’s pregnant. And, oh yeah, it’s the day of the National Football League Draft, and he’s been told by Cleveland’s owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) that he has to make a big splash on Draft Day, or the next splash the Browns make might be a new GM.
That puts Sonny into a serious bind. He makes a trade to acquire the number one pick in the NFL draft, which is expected to be Heisman-winning quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). However, he’s not in love with Bo Callahan, and neither is Cleveland’s Coach Penn (Dennis Leary). The players Sonny wants, talented middle linebacker and good egg Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) or Cleveland royalty Ray Jennings (NFL running back Arian Foster)—the son of Cleveland legend Earl Jennings (Terry Crews), won’t make the kind of big impact Molina wants for his team. However, Sonny is the general manager and it’s his decision to make. Does he defy his owner and mortgage his team’s future for fame, or does he follow his gut and get the players he wants to pick the team he wants to see play?
The parts of this movie that work the best are building up to the draft. The bits and pieces in the football war rooms, where the GM and staff huddle together to make the big decisions, tend to work best. The movie is loaded down with small parts and cameos and memorable character actors (Sam Elliott is the coach of the Wisconsin Badgers, Patrick St. Espirit is Seattle’s GM and Chi McBride is his associate, Timothy Simons and David Ramsey are a funny pair of younger scouts, and dozens of NFL and ESPN talking heads show up as well).
It feels very authentic, if only because Ivan Reitman spared no trick when it came to emulating the NFL experience. After all, he has the NFL’s blessing, so he drops mentions of players both famous and infamous (Tom Brady and Ryan Leaf), mentions NFL teams by name, uses NFL logos, and even stages an impressive NFL Draft stage featuring Commissioner Roger Goodell. Reitman also does some cool things to liven up the scenes of folks on the telephone by going to a split screen format, but with some interesting dissolves and transitions, as well as some neat little moments where the diving line will shift one way or the other, but the character’s shoulder or arm stays in place, as if blurring the line between Cleveland and Seattle’s war rooms.
Sadly, this good work all seems to fall apart in the third act as the script from Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph shows the inexperience of the two writers and begins to fray. Making one huge trade is one thing; that’s the sort of thing that happens on draft day, but taking a player way too early, then trading away three years of second-round picks, then making yet another trade is a whole lot of trading, and it really strains the film’s credibility. They attempt to set up a reason as to why Seattle’s general manager would take the trade (fan pressure), but I’d hope that in the real world, any team’s GM would be immune to angry fans gathering outside the fences of the practice facility. The last stretch of the film, it would be fair to say, stretches credibility.
A little too inside for people who aren’t NFL fans, and not inside enough for people that are NFL fanatics, Draft Day straddles a few too many fences. It’s funny, but not funny enough. It’s heartwarming, but not enough to be a romantic comedy. There’s some drama in it, but it’s not a strict drama. Perhaps it tries to do too much, what with having everything happening to Sonny at once while also trying to flesh out the lives of the three potential draftees.
Still, it’s tough to fault a movie for being ambitious, even if it reaches a bit too far. The large cast is very good, and Kevin Costner is a great centerpiece to build your film around, especially in light comedy roles like this one. It just never quite comes together as much as I would have hoped.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan has no real football experience to speak of, aside from the sort you play with a controller and a television. He’s pretty good at that kind of team management. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.
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