In his meatiest role since earning critical acclaim playing retired ball player Denny Davies in "The Upside of Anger," Kevin Costner returns to the big screen, this time once again in the type of central role that made him a mega movie star. In "Draft Day," Costner stars as Sonny Weaver, Jr., general manager of the struggling Cleveland Browns football team. "Bull Durham" in 1988 and "Field of Dreams" in 1989 helped establish him as a major Hollywood star. These films paved the way for the epic success of "Dances with Wolves" in 1990, arguably the peak of Costner's career.
With his role in "Draft Day," Costner returns to play the troubled but ultimately inspirational type of protagonist that made him such a big box office success. As Sonny tells another general manager, "Every year someone comes out this thing looking like a donkey." The team owner, played with arrogant élan by legendary character actor Frank Langella, is pressuring him "to make a splash." He has a complicated relationship with Ali (Jennifer Garner), the team's financial guru, and the new brash head coach (Denis Leary) is in a tizzy because he feels Sonny is keeping him out of the loop.
In the end, Sonny must listen to his gut and rely on his instincts rather than on complicated draft analyses, scouting reports or sophisticated algorithms. To save the franchise, Sonny must go with what he believes and use his wiles as a survivor to outwit other general managers. He must also teach those on his side that sometimes success means not following well-established conventions.
Costner excels in these types of inspirational roles in which a character gambles everything and follows the dictates of his spirit. Most extravagantly, in "Dances with Wolves," Costner plays Civil War veteran Lt. John J. Dunbar. Dunbar finds himself alone in an abandoned fort and establishes unorthodox relations with a nearby Sioux tribe. As an outsider and a stubborn dreamer committed to his principles and his expertise, Sonny is a spiritual heir of these other characters that Costner played in earlier films with such critical and popular success.
According to a poll of Hollywood executives taken by The Black List website, the screenplay of "Draft Day" has been touted behind-the-scenes as one of the strongest to come along in a while. As an actor, Costner is best in meatier roles that allow him to express his range of emotions and his commitment to characters who are common in every other way but in their unique vision. Costner has a knack not only for pulling off the inspiring moments but allowing audiences to see how the doubt and skepticism of other characters infects his own characters.
In the end, it is moviegoers and critics, and not Hollywood executives, who will decide if "Draft Day" belongs alongside other classic sports-themed films such as "Field of Dreams," "Bull Durham" and even "For the Love of the Game." The latter is a less-talked-about film in which Costner starred as an over-the-hill pitcher who has a spiritual reawakening in the midst of the greatest game of his career. The success of "Draft Day" also depends on Costner's performance, and on paper, Sonny Weaver, Jr. is the type of role Costner was born to play.