Draft Day
Superstar or Bust?

It used to be something only hardcore football fans enthusiastically followed, but now the NFL draft is a primetime television event that gets high ratings every year.  It has turned team general managers from behind-the-scenes businessmen into superstars.  It seems appropriate, then, that Hollywood would swoop in and try to capitalize on the phenomenon.  The result is Draft Day, a film that focuses on one such general manager as he tries to make a splash for his team on the fateful day of the title.

Sonny Weaver is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns and his day has hardly started before he is getting pressure from coaches, players—current, former, and prospective—fans, Sports Radio DJs, GMs of other teams, and his own team owner.  Weaver is the son of a legendary former coach with the team and to date Sonny’s only claim to fame is that he is the man who fired his father.  The owner of the team makes it very clear that Sonny needs to make a big splash if he wants to keep his job, so Sonny is immediately interested when the Seahawks call looking to trade away the number one pick in the draft.

Costner as Sonny Weaver in Draft DayAs soon as Sonny makes the trade, he begins to doubt himself.  He practically had to mortgage the team’s future to get the pick and now he is questioning if the quarterback everyone feels is the obvious best player in the draft is really the player his team needs.  Added to this is the additional emotional stress of the fact that he has just learned that he is about to be a father, only a week after his own father has passed away.  The stress builds throughout the day until the draft is upon him and Sonny must decide if he is going to give into the pressure or take control and build the team that he wants.

Draft Day is a lot of build up to an NFL Draft climax that is entertaining, but still cannot match the excitement of the actual draft… at least not for diehard football fans.  As Sonny Weaver, Kevin Costner is good throughout, but definitely at his best in that final act.  That’s important, because we as the audience are asked to accept that some professional NFL general managers would actually accept the trades he proposes.  If not for someone like Costner making the offers sound like something they can’t refuse, there is no way we would believe he could pull off all his tricks.

Although the final act is entertaining, it takes a long time for the movie to get there.  Draft Day plays like it’s the football version of Moneyball and the first two acts are full of lots of phone calls as Sonny entertains various trade offers and completes some last minute player evaluations.  It lacks the natural gravitas of its baseball counterpart, however, as that was based on true events whereas we never forget while watching Draft Day that we are watching a fictional story.  There is a great moment where Sonny relates the now legendary story of Joe Montana pointing John Candy out to his teammates prior to leading them on a 93-yard game winning drive in Super Bowl XXIII.  This movie could have used more moments like that, connecting it to NFL history.

Director Ivan Reitman is apparently aware that his tale is not all that interesting in its first two acts and he attempts to mask this by over-editing.  Split screens are used to excess throughout the film.   They are creatively used, but work better as a distraction than they do as a storytelling device.

Because it ends well, Draft Day succeeds more than it maybe should.  Football fans should enjoy the behind-the-scenes look at how teams operate on draft day, even if it always feels a little made up.  It is going to be a challenge for it to outdraw the actual draft, though.

Draft Day is rated PG-13 for “brief strong language and sexual references.”  The film was initially rated R due to its language, but it was granted a PG-13 rating on appeal.  That feels appropriate as foul language is really the extent of the questionable material.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Draft Day.