To some, the NFL draft is one of the most exciting things in the entire football season. There’s nothing particularly complex about it. You have a group of players who eagerly await being picked by one of several teams during multiple rounds of choosing. However, this is merely what the public sees. Behind the scenes, there are a multitude of deals being struck between managers involving trades for positions, picks, and players that will have a major impact on how the selections will take place. With such a situation, there is the potential for a film to tell a suspenseful story of trying to get the best players for a team that’s desperate to get back on their feet, something along the lines of the recent and great sports film “Moneyball,” a film that showed us that the best sports films are about something beyond the game. However, that doesn’t stop some films of the genre from diving right into the sport without taking the time to look at much else.
“Draft Day” is such a film, focusing on the manager of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), as he struggles to reorganize his team after a pretty bad season. The NFL draft is merely hours away when Sonny receives a call from the manager of the Seattle Seahawks, offering the first pick in the draft in exchange for their #1 picks for the next three years. It’s a lot to give up, but in his desperation, Sonny takes the offer, leading many to think that he’s obviously going to make the most popular pick, Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), a quarterback that has shown great promise. As the time for his choice comes closer and closer, he finds himself wondering whether Callahan is really the right pick, or if perhaps one of a few other up-and-coming players would be a better addition to his team.
There may be those that will find this to be a pretty interesting topic to make a film about, but be forewarned, if it’s not something you’re really into, you’ll more than likely find yourself bored silly. It’s pretty much as interesting as you would think selecting a football player would be. That is to say, there just isn’t much that goes on in this film of interest outside of the football world. As I’ve already pointed out with “Moneyball,” great sports films usually have a stronger focus than just the sport in question. In that film’s case, we had the fascinating concept of how a baseball team was brought together, using an untested method involving complex calculations, leading to a film that drew in all audience members whether they were interested in sports or not.
With “Draft Day,” the film basically boils down to waiting around for nearly two hours as Sonny tries to come to a final decision as to which player he wants to choose for his team, with a couple of deals thrown in in an attempt to make the film a little more engaging. The problem is that it’s the entire concept of the film that drags it down. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to sit through as dull a film as this where all you can do is wait for a conclusion that can be seen coming from miles away. Unlike with “Moneyball,” there’s nothing to draw in the audiences members that aren’t hardcore sports fans. To be honest, there doesn’t seem to be much here to draw in the fans either.
The screenplay is another one of its major issues. The flat, lifeless dialogue partners rather well with the bland narrative. It’s something of a miracle that writers Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph were able to expand such a simple idea into a nearly two-hour story, which only goes to hurt it further. The stretched-out story gives one the feeling that the film just keeps going and going with no foreseeable end in the future. Even when Sonny finally gets the chance to make his pick, they still find a way to drag it on for several more minutes. It may shock some of you to learn that this was the #1 script on the Black List (the list of best unproduced screenplays) for 2012. My best guess is that it was radically altered before it went into production. That or the voters were very easily impressed.
It’s such a shame too because there’s a pretty good cast involved. Costner is suitable as Sonny. It’s not a particularly great performance, but it gets the job done. The supporting cast includes Jennifer Garner as Sonny’s girlfriend, Ellen Burstyn as his mother, Denis Leary as the Browns’ coach, Frank Langella as the Browns’ owner, and Sam Elliott as Callahan’s former coach (for one whole scene). They all do fine work, but the material lets them down far too much.
“Draft Day” comes to us from director Ivan Reitman, whose name you may remember from such films as “Ghostbusters,” “Ghostbusters II,” “Stripes,” and “Dave.” Unfortunately, he hasn’t made a good film in over 20 years, with “Draft Day” being just another dud in a long line of them that includes “No Strings Attached,” “My Super Ex-Girlfriend,” “Fathers’ Day,” and “Junior.” It’s sad to see that his judgment of material has fallen so low, but I don’t think he’s the one to blame in this situation. It’s unlikely anyone could have taken such a screenplay and made something decent out of it. It’s a bland premise that may have looked fine on paper, but put to film, it simply doesn’t have any pull to it.
"Draft Day" comes to Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of decent quality. There is a slight fuzziness to the picture throughout the presentation, but it's not enough to hinder your viewing of the film. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is outstanding, presenting all elements of the soundtrack at perfect levels. For the most part, it's a very quiet film, so it's good to see that they've gone to the trouble of making sure the audio is where it needs to be. Overall, there's very little that could have been done to improve upon the quality in either area.
Audio Commentary with the Writers: A commentary track that shows that the writers of the screenplay don't really have much to say about the film. Easily Skippable.
On the Clock: The Making of Draft Day: A fascinating hour-long featurette that takes you behind the scenes of the making of the film, featuring interviews with the cast and crew. Definitely worth taking a look at.
Welcome to Primetime: An interesting ten-minute featurette that has the cast, crew, and more talking about the history of the NFL Draft and how it works. Worth watching if you want to learn more about it.
Deleted Scenes: About eight minutes of scenes that don't add anything to the film, so this is another extra that you can easily skip.
There's the seed of an intriguing idea within "Draft Day," but due to the writers' inability to get at it, what we end up with is a dull and stretched-out film that fails to go beyond the confines of its sport the way the very best sports films often do. Unfortunately, because of this, it's unlikely that either sports fans or non-sports fans will take any interest in it, especially when all it has to offer is Costner's character trying to come to a easily-foreseeable decision for two hours. To put it simply: among the myriad of other sports films out there, this is one that's not likely to get picked anytime soon.
Available on Blu-ray and DVD starting tomorrow.
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