This spring, director Ivan Reitman will release his latest film, Draft Day. Reitman (Ghostbusters) has had a rough couple of decades in the director’s chair after a string of successes in the 80’s and early 90’s. After enduring more recent efforts like My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Evolution, his latest movie is a pleasant surprise and at the least a step back towards the right direction. While it surely is not going to be a Best Picture contender, Draft Day is a fun exploration of the behind-the-scenes stresses of the NFL .
Kevin Costner is riding the secondary wave of his career hot off his much talked about appearance in last year’s, Man of Steel. What better way to reintroduce himself to audiences than through a sports movie? Costner had two of the his early hits based around baseball: Bull Durham and Field of Dreams. Clearly he took note that football is the now the #1 sport and he, much like his on-screen character, is the questioned leader of the show. However, Costner succeeds in his workman-like performance that mirrors the city of Cleveland in which the film revolves. He plays Sonny Weaver Jr, the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, who is living in the shadow of his legendary father while trying to turn around a football team that has long lost its winning traditions. He has to make the most of this one day in which he may seal his own and the team’s collective fate.
Denis Leary plays the Browns’ head coach, Vince Penn, who replaced the illustrious Weaver Sr. Leary is at home portraying the coach who wears his winning attitude and Dallas Cowboys Super Bowl ring proudly. Through Leary and Costner’s interactions, Reitman is able to explore the pressures of building a team for the future versus winning now. Weaver makes a questionable call without consultation early on, which puts the pressure on him to make decisions which will either get him fired or set the organization, and Penn, back for years. Things are made all the more complicated by the flashy owner of the Browns, played by Frank Langella, who gives Weaver a directive to “make a splash” in the draft.
The negotiations between teams is another highlight of the film. In addition to some snappy dialogue, Reitman often uses split screen editing effects which at times, visually show who has negotiating power. At times Weaver was literally pushed off of the screen when his efforts were in vain. A fun visual flourish that keeps the lack of a strong story on your mind’s back burner.
One of strongest points of the film is in its many colorful and energetic characters. Chadwick Boseman (42) gives a strong supporting performance as Vontae Mack, a draft prospect with big heart, but who lacks the necessary flash to be a top pick. Jennifer Garner (Dallas Buyers Club) has a fun time as Costner’s lead financial executive and love interest. Reitman, however never veers for too long into the romantic comedy area, keeping his focus and the viewer’s attention on the pressures of one of the NFL’s most stressful days. Tom Welling (Smallville) is surprisingly convincing as the team’s quarterback threatened by the notion of being replaced by a rookie during draft day. Ellen Burstyn (Requiem for a Dream), Sam Elliot, David Ramsey (Arrow), are among some of the notable supporting characters peppered throughout the film who all bring their heft and humor to the proceedings. The characters aren’t particularly deep, but Reitman arranges the pieces correctly so you do get a glimpse in the day-in-the-life pressures of pro sports.
The film is not gritty, nor does it ever take itself completely serious which makes it move briskly. However, this also keeps it from being something a little bit more than ordinary. Showing a little more of the darkness behind the flash of pro sports may have helped take this film to a higher level. In addition, the tone was inconsistent at times when it shifted between its comedic and dramatic elements. Admittedly, much of the film’s tension in its climax isn’t whom Weaver selects on draft day, but the creative way in which he gets there. Reitman is successful in coming up with a clever finale which in true heartwarming fashion… will warm your heart…maybe…
Draft Day is to be released in April, right in time for pre-draft hype to begin. This may be a fun companion piece to the draft if you are a football fan and looking for something to hold you over until training camp opens, or if you are looking for a fun date movie compromise. The film is accessible to the non-sports fan as well and can even serve as a tutorial on the hierarchy of NFL operations. All in all, Draft Day is enjoyable, yet it certainly won’t find itself on top of movie’s Mt. Sportsmore..
Go check it out this spring! Or don’t… Either way let us know how you feel about the movie!