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.


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.



With the NFL and college football underway I thought I might as well do the exact same thing I did at the start of the baseball season. This week’s Phenomenal 5 will be looking at football movies. This was an interesting list to put together and when the final cut was made, I was surprised to see the variety (something I aim for with these lists). So here they are, five football movies that I thoroughly enjoyed. Now I know there are a few popular ones that didn’t make it therefore I wouldn’t call this the definitive list. But there’s no questioning that these five football films are certainly phenomenal.


This 2006 football picture is based on the unlikely true story of Vince Papale, a down-on-his-luck bartender who is encouraged to participate in an open tryout for the Philadelphia Eagles. Mark Wahlberg plays Vince who catches the attention of Eagles coach Dick Vermeil (Greg Kinnear). Obviously he makes the team or we wouldn’t have a story but at its heart this is a fun movie for football fans. While Kinnear doesn’t quite make me think of Dick Vermeil, Wahlberg is a lot of fun and “Invincible” is a movie I still enjoy.


“The Program” is certainly a movie with its share of flaws but it’s still one that strikes a chord with many football fans. This movie takes an edgy look at college football through the fictional ESU Timberwolves. It looks at academic fraud, steroids, Heisman pressures, and even ventures into troubled kids dealing with split families and alcoholic fathers. I completely admit that “The Program” tries to do too many things and the writing is sometimes silly. But this is a compelling look at the NCAA program and James Caan is excellent as the head coach trying to balance it all. “The Program” is just a solid football movie, flaws and all.

#3 – “RUDY”

“Rudy” is one sports movie that almost everyone is familiar with. It’s the story of Rudy Ruettiger (Sean Astin), a college kid who is small in size but with a huge heart. He has a dream of playing football for the University of Notre Dame. He first has to overcome the hurdle of being admitted to the university and then he has to make his way onto the practice squad by impressing his coach with his determination and effort. Against all odds, Rudy finds himself not only dressing out for the final home game of the season, but playing to the chants of “Rudy, Rudy”. It’s an utter feel good movie but it’s also a classic football film..


If you haven’t seen this 1925 silent movie gem you’re missing a real treasure. The great Harold Lloyd plays an enthusiastic but clueless young man who is entering his freshman year at Tate College. To gain popularity with the college crowd and with a young girl that’s caught his eye, Harold decides to join the university’s football team. He goes from being the team’s tackling dummy (literally) to water boy to football hero. It’s a charming and often times hilarious story. Lloyd is great and I’ll never forget the little jig he does as a greeting. Watch the movie and you’ll know exactly what I mean.


“Brian’s Song” is amazing for several reasons. First, it wasn’t initially a theatrical release. This ABC Movie of the Week from 1971 tells the story of the friendship between the chatty, wise-cracking Joe Piccolo (James Caan) and the shy, reserved Gale Sayers (Billy Dee Williams). Both are competitors for the same position on the Chicago Bears and their unlikely friendship grows even amid racial tensions and career threatening injuries. Things do turn weepy at the end but it works thanks to the wonderful relationship we watch unfold both on and off the football field. Caan and Williams give really good performances and that helps make this a great football film.

There you go – 5 Phenomenal Football Movies. I know of several that I’m sure some would put on their list. So what about you? What’s your favorite football film?