Let’s get this out-of-the-way right at the top: I love football. I love Kevin Costner. I love sports movies. Draft Day was going to have to work pretty hard to turn me off. And, while the movie doesn’t appear to be working particularly hard at anything, it certainly didn’t work to turn me off.
This is going to sound like I didn’t like the movie and that’s not true. I did. I liked it very much. But, the reality is that there is nothing particularly revelatory about Draft Day. No one is doing the best work of her or his career here. That’s okay. It’s fine for a movie to be good and to live exactly up to audience expectations.
In Draft Day, I was hoping for a Kevin Costner sports movie. I got one. I want a Costner sports movie to make me root for the underdog. Check. I want a Costner sports movie to give the actor a scene or two in which he could be, if not heroic, at least commanding. Check. I want a Costner sports movie to supply some good sports action. Check. I want a Costner sports movie to feature a romantic subplot. Check.
It’s all here. It all works. It just doesn’t work overtime, and that keeps Draft Day in the “good, not great” range.
Draft Day creates a compelling time-lock in that all of its action takes place in one day – the day of the NFL draft. There are running countdowns throughout the movie that create a sense of urgency that feels real. As teams around the league prepare for the NFL Draft, the audience is afforded a briefly glimpse into what the pressures of committing to 20-year-old athletes must feel like. The movie, especially in its opening act, excels at creating moments and then paying them off. It does a great job at planting seeds early that come back later in the narrative. I very much liked structure of the film. As the end of the movie approached, I was caught up in the Draft Day dealings and, while the football-part of my mind said, “ah, that probably wouldn’t happen in the real world,” the movie going part of my mind simply didn’t care.
Kevin Costner hits all the right notes as Sonny Weaver, jr, the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns. Weaver, jr, is a comfortable Costner creation, witty but reserved, smart but not overwhelmingly so, dealing with all kinds of father/son issues – in short, the role is a perfect fit for Costner and he does not disappoint. Costner has an effortless appeal that serves the movie well and, when he Sonny seems to have lost his magic, we feel for him because we like the character Costner has created. That’s important, of course, because how the audience feels about Costner will likely determine how they feel about the movie. This one is star-driven to be sure.
Sharing top billing with Costner is Jennifer Garner as the Browns salary cap-ologist, Ali (oddly, her last name isn’t revealed - even in the credits) whose relationship with Sonny is an important part of the film. As always, Garner is very likable in her role and I had no trouble believing her as a passionate football fan with knowledge of the game that rivaled her counterparts in the Browns’ front office. She and Costner share a nice chemistry in the movie and that’s important, because theirs is the most fully drawn relationship in the film.
The supporting cast is excellent, too, from Denis Leary’s Coach Peck, to Ellyn Burnstyn as Sonny’s mother, to Tom Welling (let’s get this guy a better role, soon!) as the Browns incumbent quarterback. Frank Langella is given little to do other than twirl his mustache for most of the movie as he plays the team owner, but he, too, receives a nice moment at the conclusion of the movie. Terry Crews, Chadwick Boseman, Chi McBride, Rosanna Arquette, Sean Combs, Kevin Dunn and others populate the rest of the cast. They are known faces, great actors, and they give weight to the proceedings. Chadwick Boseman, known for his role as Jackie Robinson in 42 and ready to break out in this summer’s Get on Up as James Brown, makes the greatest impact.
The movie looks authentic because of the cooperation of the National Football League. There are NFL personalities cameo-ing in the movie in scene-after-scene, the logos of the teams are on display everywhere and, each time a location shifts to a team’s headquarters, its stadium is shown with a title card naming the specific franchise lettered in the team’s font. That’s great attention to detail.
There are nice plot twists, solid performances and a satisfying conclusion on hand in Draft Day. If it doesn’t re-write the rules of sports movies, it certainly knows how to follow them well.
Draft Day receives three and a half first round picks out of a possible five.