The thing I liked most about this movie was how it showed the immense pressures on general managers in the National Football League—especially on draft day. There might be more pressure on a GM on this day than at any other time of the year—even the Superbowl. After all, if a team is playing in the Superbowl, they’ve made it, and, win or lose, it’s seen as a tremendous accomplishment. But draft day is another story.
Draft day can make or break a team for years to come. Choose the wrong players, and your team could be wallowing in last place for half a decade. But it’s more than just assembling a winning team. There’s what ownership wants, the coaching staff and the players who have their own priorities, and then there are the fans who want God knows what. There’s even your own mother berating you about your choices!
All these forces combine on one harrowing day every year for NFL franchises, and as the clock ticks the weight of the world rests on the shoulders of general managers, who are responsible for the picks. Such is the plight of Sonny Weaver Jr., played by Kevin Costner, in Draft Day, who is the GM of a fictional Cleveland Browns team. He must produce a great draft not only to revive the flagging franchise, but also to placate the owner and shore up his personal life.
Directed by: Ivan Reitman
Written by: Rajiv Joseph & Scott Rothman
Starring: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Sean Combs, Frank Langella, and Sam Elliot
There are shades of Major League in this movie, but history was unkind to the production. Major League was a comedy about the Cleveland Indians baseball team which had been terrible for a long time but suddenly puts together a bunch of misfits for a pennant run. The reality meshed with the fiction, for the Indians, by and large, have remained an underperforming franchise. But in Draft Day the entire narrative pivots around a trade made by the Seattle Seahawks and the Browns on the morning of draft day. Seattle, you see, is also under pressure to produce a winning team. They have the number one pick which means they were the worst team during the prior season. They want to use their pick to draft a star college quarterback. Here, reality’s rubber doesn’t even come close to the road. The Seahawks won the Superbowl last year and have a young, star quarterback who will be with them for years to come.
If you are not a football fan, you likely won’t know or appreciate any of this. But if you are (as is this reviewer) then it is quite hard to square the fictional narrative with reality. I’m sure when the script was written and the movie produced, Seattle’s prominence as a team could not have been foreseen. Still, I wonder how much gusto will be taken out of Draft Day due to Seattle’s championship last year.
Adding to this oddity are many of the conversations that take place in Draft Day. Much of the dialogue feels as if it would have been said months and weeks prior to the actual day of the draft, but in the movie it’s crammed in for expository purposes, which is a drag. Again, if you aren’t a football fan, you probably won’t notice it, but if you are you may feel disengaged from the story.
Screenwriters who don’t like expository writing, whether they are football fans or not, will certainly cringe at lines such as “How’s my favorite super agent?” and, ten minutes later, “How’s my favorite strength coach?”
If the dialogue is strained, the editing is interesting. There are a number of split screen scenes in Draft Day, but oftentimes the characters, who are in separate cities, seem to bleed into each other’s space, which is a nice effect and one I can’t recall seeing before in a movie.
A word about Kevin Costner. If there’s anything he’s known for in his long career it is the sports movie. From Bull Durham to Field of Dreams to Tin Cup to, now, Draft Day, Costner is more prolific in sports films than John Wayne was in Westerns (that’s an exaggeration). Perhaps more in the way of a sharp observation, I’ve always marveled at the way Costner does comedy. I don’t think he’s laughed or even smiled in any movie he’s ever done; but he still can be quite funny and does the deadpan better than anyone.
Clint Eastwood is funny because his face is so weathered and his manner so gruff it’s obvious when he is mugging for a laugh. But Costner is subtle and we aren’t laughing at him the way we do at Clint. We’re not even laughing with Costner (because he doesn’t), but it’s no mistake that so many of his films are built around the unique tone and bearing he brings to the screen.
Draft Day is just such a movie, and if the script were stronger it would have been one of his better films. Unfortunately, there’s too much packed into the movie. There’s a domestic angle involving Jennifer Garner and some scenes with Costner’s character’s mother which feel forced into the narrative to not much effect. In addition, I wonder how real life coaching staffs and behind the scenes sports folks will react to the movie. Will they say it’s accurate or feel they are being mocked?
In my review of the Clint Eastwood sports movie Trouble With the Curve, I noted how preposterous the conclusion was. Something similar happens in Draft Day, where it seems all the work staffs do to get ready for the NFL’s draft can be thrown out the window at the last second as the GM wings it. There’s dramatic license in writing and movie making, but there’s also absurdity. It will be interesting to see the reaction from those in the know.
Draft Day does continue the trend of sports movies in which the focus is not the field of play or the players themselves. Trouble With the Curve took a look at baseball scouts. Moneyball was about baseball statisticians. Draft Day examines the most important off-field day of the year for football front offices and coaching staffs. In this sense, it’s a compelling look at the inner workings of a sports franchise and the hair-thinning pressures placed on the men and women who run them.