Weekend at the Movies – Draft Day
Is this the first major football movie of the year? Even if it isn’t, it’s the first major football movie this year to star Kevin Costner, and that has to count for something, right? It’s also the first major football movie of the year to involve almost no actual football played on screen.
Draft Day takes place during the twelve or so hours before and a few hours after its titular event, the National Football League Draft, following the exploits of Cleveland Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver, Jr. (Costner) as he attempts to guide the Browns out of their long losing streak with some carefully chosen new blood. His efforts are hampered by a combative head coach (Dennis Leary), and distracted by the looming legacy of his recently-dead father, also the former Browns General Manager, and the unexpected future with his team’s financial advisor (Jennifer Garner).
The Savage Take
There’s compelling drama in Draft Day as Sonny Weaver, Jr. trades away future draft picks, risking his job and the ire of his boss, staff and city so that he can make the perfect deal and build his dream team. I don’t have to understand the game on the field, or even be much of a sports fan to be fascinated by the game that plays out in the office.
But Draft Day tries to appeal to the masses with two subplots—one romantic, one sentimental—that are so mediocre that sometimes you feel like you’re watching something made-for-TV. Both are totally unnecessary and a waste of the talent on screen.
Costner is brilliant playing a stressed-out but surprisingly savvy general manager, but seems as bored playing the grieving son and uncertain boyfriend as I was watching him try. It’s not as if there wasn’t enough material to make into a movie, especially with the introduction of Sonny’s potential draft picks.
"Unless you’re an NFL fan, don’t expect to be impressed."
We’re given small glimpses into the lives of each of these young men whose futures depend on Sonny’s decision, but they feel more like reminders that it’s draft day, not bring-your-drama-to-work day, than meaningful subplots. I wish they’d dug deeper there instead of the half-hearted attempt to cram in Sonny’s “complicated” personal life.
Draft Day is a great experience when Sonny is commanding his staff, arguing with his coach and playing business chess with other general managers. Despite the predictable outcome, these moments ceate real tension. You know where Costner’s going, but you can’t wait to see how he gets there. It’s just annoying when he’s constantly interrupted by personal business.
If you were to cut out all the Lifetime movie-of-the-week filler and just focus on the draft politics, you might have a great docudrama on your hands, one that appealed to more than just the fans who find edge-of-your-seat drama in the real draft day. Unless you’re one of them, don’t expect to be impressed.
The Courteous Rejoinder
There are many better films I could compare Draft Day against—quite a few worse ones, too—but one you might not expect, at the risk of creating a recurring theme, is last summer’s Man of Steel. That’s because both films commit the same cardinal sin of good storytelling: mistaking the presence of flaws for what makes a character well-rounded, and mistaking the absence of flaws for what makes a character boring.
Both Costner and this movie are at their best when Sonny Weaver, Jr. is doing what he does best: be a ballsy General Manager who is far more clever than he lets on, and who—as Garner’s character puts it—sees things that other people do not.
The movie is never more fun than when Sonny not only drafts the right man (in a twist that everyone in the theater saw coming), but also sticks it to the antagonist (the Seattle Seahawks, obviously) while further bettering the lot of his team. Certainly, Draft Day’s denouement is the movie at its most indulgent, but it’s also the movie at its most functional.
"The movie is at its best when Costner is doing what he does best: be a ballsy GM."
Everything else—his tumultuous-ish relationship with Jennifer Garner, his weirdly strained relationship with his mother and love-hate professions for his father, his strange and uneven outbursts of anger—smacks of the writers adding elements to enhance Sonny’s “appeal” or “believability.” In fact, they’re the least appealing and most unbelievable parts of the film.
I look forward to the day when screenwriters (and audiences) once again discover that a flawless character struggling to cope with a flawed world is not milquetoast but utterly compelling. Maybe when they do, we’ll get a good Superman movie. And maybe if they had already, Draft Day would be a lot easier to recommend.
As it is, you could waste your time in worse ways, but unless you’re a diehard fan of the gridiron (and even if you are), there are many, many better movies that you should be watching instead.
Where Do We Go From Here?
T: Given the remarkably strong NFL branding present in this film (Judging by its contents, I’m pretty sure the whole thing was co-funded by the NFL and the City of Cleveland.), I assume that where they want you to go next is a subscription to the NFL Network. Rather, I’d suggest you dig into the pantheon of great football movies, The Blind Side, for instance, if you want heart, or The Longest Yard (Reynolds, not Sandler, obviously) if you want humor.
S: Do you have a copy of Field of Dreams? Dust it off, because Draft Day will make you wish you were watching it, anyway.