REVIEW: “Draft Day”

Draft Day Poster

Kevin Costner’s 2014 movie trifecta continues with “Draft Day”, a football film about the back room wranglings leading up to and during the NFL draft. This certainly isn’t the first sports movie focused on the front office instead of on the field. Think “Moneyball” with helmets and shoulder pads. The two films actually have a lot in common. Both feature two strong central lead performances and both give cool cinematic insights into a little known side of their sports.

Interestingly its similarities to “Moneyball” could be perceived as a bigger weakness. Both movies revolve around an audacious and headstrong team leader who bucks the system and conventional sports wisdom to build “his team”. They face constant resistance from ownership, scouts, and everyone in between yet stake their job on their faith in their system. It’s impossible not to see the resemblance.

Draft Day 1

But despite the similarities “Draft Day” still manages to feel like its own movie. In reality football has become America’s #1 sport so much so that even the NFL Draft has become must watch television for fans. That hectic and intense timeframe is the setting for director Ivan Reitman’s movie. Costner plays Sonny Weaver, Jr., the general manager for a Cleveland Browns team mired in an extensive losing stretch. With only hours remaining until the start of the draft Sonny is facing immense pressure from the owner (Frank Langella) to make a big splash. He’s also butting heads with a newly hired coach (Denis Leary) and a fan-base desperate to win.

Sonny’s personal life is equally stressful. His secretive romantic relationship with a front office coworker named Ali (Jennifer Garner) has taken an unforeseen turn. He wrestles with the shadow of his recently deceased father – a well-respected former coach for the Browns. He also struggles under the weight of everyone’s expectations in light of his own inadequacies. The movie never dives deep into any of these personal issues, but we get just enough of them to flesh out Sonny and make him more than a stereotypical sports character.

The meat and potatoes of the movie is football but you don’t have to be well versed in the sport to understand what’s going on. That said, understanding the landscape and the relationship between college football and the NFL gave me a deeper appreciation for the story. I loved the manipulative and sometimes vulturous back-and-forths between GMs, each hungry to get the best deal. Then there is the turbulent draft preparation which is itself fascinating even without this stories added drama. All of this clicks and even when you know the movie is stretching it is still a ton of fun.

DRAFT DAY

But the biggest strength of the film is Kevin Costner. Talk about a strong performance. Costner reminds us why he became such a huge star. It’s a completely seamless and effortless performance that reveals so many of the characteristics and contradictions of this character. I also really love Jennifer Garner here. In the past she has been an actress I have never given much attention. Here she is razor sharp and she is a welcomed strong and confident female character. Even Denis Leary, an actor I normally dislike, is really good and I never get tired of watching Frank Langella. And then of course there is the assortment of mandatory football related cameos sprinkled throughout the film. Some are really cool while others are really obvious.

“Draft Day” could be accused of being too safe and by-the-book. It also follows several familiar sports movie tropes that you will immediately recognize. But the movie never chokes itself on them and it remains compelling throughout. The story is crisp and exciting even in its unique setting and overall it is loads of fun. But Costner is the shining light and watching him work here makes me so happy that he is back on the big screen. Simply put it’s one of my favorite performances of the year so far and it made “Draft Day” all the more interesting.

VERDICT – 4 STARS

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20 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Draft Day”

  1. Nice analysis. I thought it was solid enough especially considering the trailer didn’t look too hot. I think most not interested in football will struggle to find any enjoymemt though, but that is just my opinion.

    Only thing I hated was the editing. At times, I was more transfixed on someone else’s body “touching” another’s during the split screen. Just seemed weird.

    • The running split screen effect was kinda cool the first 4 or 5 times they used it. But by the 10th time I was saying “Oh that again”.

      Still I liked this flick a lot mainly because of Costner. Such a strong performance.

  2. Good review Keith. It was a fine movie. Although it may have paid a bit too much attention to needless subplots, the draft stuff itself is what kept me watching and so interested in the first place.

    • Absolutely. In fact, I think you will like it for many of the same reasons you liked Moneyball. Costner gives a fantastic lead performance and the movie is always entertaining despite going in some familiar sports movie directions. I would definitely recommend you seeing it.

  3. Know my fiancee and her dad want to see this. I have little interest in sports (watched the Superbowl for the first time ever this year, and it bored me to tears), but I adore a good sports movie. I had some interest in seeing this already. You gave me more interest. Great review.

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. You should definitely check the movie out. I could recommend it for Kevin Costner’s performance alone, but the story is actually a lot of fun itself. I would be really interested to hear the reactions of those who don’t like sports, but I do believe it will be positive.

  4. I’m from Ohio, born and raised, and every man in my family is a die-hard Browns fan, which basically means living a life of utter disappointment. That being said, we are all pretty excited to see this film!

    • I feel for you Browns fans. Talk about a franchise that DESERVES a winning team. I’ve been a Broncos fan since I was about 7-years old. I remember those classic playoff games against the Browns back then.

      As for the movie, it is really worth seeing. Lots of fun for fans of movies and football.

    • You know, you’re exactly right. When a movie is done well the familiar formula isn’t that big of a deal. It is done really well here and Costner is fabulous.

      Let me know what you think of it.

  5. Great review Keith! I might give this a rent as I like Costner. I’m usually not big into sports movies but I did like Field of Dreams 😉 Happy Easter my friend!

    • Thanks Ruth. Happy Easter to you too.

      This was a really fun movie mainly because it’s so good to see Costner completely own a roll again. The guy is really good here. It’s definitely sports heavy but I think it has quite a bit to offer for those not so smitten with football.

  6. Fine review Keith. What a pleasant surprise this turned out to be. I really liked it, and definitely agree about Costner, he was great! I was worried this was going to be a very stiff, awkward and poorly written affair but it was charismatic, realistic and exciting! Job well done to Ivan Reitman!

  7. You’re right. the strength here is Costner. I didn’t care to see this one and then left having enjoyed it. Because of Costner. I don’t care about the draft every year…i see it as a tease not worth getting excited over because football hasn’t started yet. And this kept my interest. Although predictable, the journey was fun.
    I also really like the cinematography and how the camera worked when two people would be on the phone in different areas but the person walking would be the moving border for the scene transition. Very cool.
    Nice review!

    • Thanks my friend. It really was entertaining, wasn’t it? Costner is such a good actor and he absolutely owned this role. Definitely predictable but always fun. I would definitely see this again.

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