Cleveland Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) is under pressure to make a big splash in the upcoming NFL Draft. When he trades up to the first pick, he must decide whether to take the nation’s #1 college player, or risk it all on a gamble that could change his team forever. Also stars Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, and Chadwick Boseman.
Directed by Ivan Reitman.
Most people associate Kevin Costner with either great sports movies or great westerns. That’s hardly a fair assessment of his varied and acclaimed career, but those two genres have admittingly given us his most iconic and entertaining roles.
After some impressive recent performances in Man of Steel and 3 Days to Kill, Costner returns to the sports genre for the fantastic Draft Day, a football film with hardly any football action. Building on the improbable appeal of the tension and drama in an NFL Draft war room, Draft Day is surprisingly entertaining, with another solid performance from Costner, crafting a story that will manage to appeal to even non-football fans.
Director Ivan Reitman has brought us such iconic comedies as Stripes, Ghostbusters, and Dave, but in the last decade, he has been pickier with his projects, getting behind the camera only twice (for the films My Super Ex-Girlfriend and No Strings Attached). Draft Day is distinctively different from many of his signature films, but Reitman shows a deft hand by crafting a character drama that is smart and sincere, giving Costner and his co-stars a platform to showcase their skills.
Draft Day features quintessential Costner, and the 59-year-old actor doesn't look like he’s aged since the Clinton administration. The film rises and falls on the strength of his performance, and the actor is more than up to the task, as he injects an urgent energy into every scene, building tension throughout a film that shouldn't be this riveting. The football action is only shown in glimpses and a good portion of the dialogue is a series of cleverly-edited phone calls. And yet, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.
Costner has ever been the kind of actor to get lost in a role, but he brings an earnestness and authenticity that suspends disbelief to the point that you accept that he is Sonny Weaver Jr., the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, and even when the story’s football logic gets a bit improbable, he still manages to sell it.
Costner is helped by an outstanding supporting cast, led by Jennifer Garner who has a thankless role as the girlfriend whose personal issues make Costner’s day even more stressful. Her role as Ali could have been an annoying caricature, but Garner’s likability and chemistry with Costner helps, and the character is given nice emotional depth by screenwriters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman. Her performance makes me miss her as Sydney Bristow on the television show Alias that much more.
Denis Leary, playing a disgruntled head coach who hates Costner’s draft day moves, is a nice counter to Costner’s character. Frank Langella essentially plays the film’s foil, as the Browns owner who wants to sell tickets and make a splash. He’s essentially a big-screen version of Jerry Jones, only not as scary and evil as the real-life Dallas Cowboys owner. Chadwick Boseman (42) is especially good as Vontae Mack, a college player who needs to be drafted high to provide for his family, and he is pressing Weaver to choose him. Six-time Oscar nominee Ellen Burstyn (The Exorcist), Tom Welling (Smallville), Wade Williams (Prison Break), and real-life NFL star Arian Foster (Houston Texans) are all impressive in smaller supporting roles. This is a solid acting ensemble, top to bottom. They make the most of their short screen time, complimenting the leads nicely.
Although being a football fan is not a requirement to enjoy Draft Day, it does help to have some knowledge of the game and the draft process in particular. Those not familiar with the process should consult a fan before watching; it really will enhance your enjoyment of the film. Even with all the football terminology and backroom dealing going on, Draft Day works because the human element is so captivating to watch. Even with so many personal storylines competing for attention, the film never feels unfocused, and Reitman’s frenetic tone in capturing one wild day manages to endear the viewer to the characters.
Screenwriters Joseph and Rothman are smart enough not to let the football minutiae overload the narrative; it’s a constant presence, but the personal plights of the characters are paramount. There’s just the right amount of humor to make these characters both human and relatable, which helps as the film moves towards the big payoff at the end. I’m sure there are plenty who will take issue with the plausibility of the draft moves Sonny makes and whether other teams would react the way they do. It’s a valid argument, but Draft Day never pretends to be a realistic look at the draft process. It’s an NFL-themed fantasy, and it’s a great American sports movie.
Draft Day didn't do well at the box office when it opened this past April, but its release on the eve of the NFL season kickoff is a perfect time to discover it. Costner is at the top of his game once again, his presence still commands the screen like few other actors do. Draft Day is a can’t-miss prospect, in movie terms.
VIDEO AND AUDIO
The Blu-ray features a top-shelf transfer, with solid natural colors and and excellent detail. A few times, however, I found some of the scenes to be a bit soft; however, that seemed to be an attempt to smooth the features of the cast, who are almost all over 40. It doesn't affect the overall quality of the video, which is consistent throughout a number of settings. The audio mix is a DTS-HDMA 5.1 track with nice separation and a surprisingly deep sound. John Debney’s excellent score is perfectly balanced with the dialogue, and when there is the occasional football action, there’s some nice crunch with a little low end to give it just the right “oomph.”
Lionsgate has provided some nice extras onto the Blu-ray, led by “On the Clock: The Making of Draft Day,” a very well done hour-long documentary that covered the film’s production from concept to red carpet premiere. Interviews with the cast and crew are provided, and it is more than just a fluff promo piece for the film. There is a lot of content here, giving viewers a comprehensive look at the film’s production. The documentary is only available on the Blu-ray, not the DVD.
An audio commentary by screenwriters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman is quite good, even if it lacks the star power of the film’s actors. Joseph and Rothman are quite engaging, and they provide some nice insights into their approach to the film.
“Welcome to Primetime” is a ten minute featurette that serves as a promotional piece for ESPN’s telecast of the NFL Draft. There’s a bit of history about the Draft provided, and some insight from both NFL personnel and Arian Foster, but you can’t help but feel this is all about ESPN wanting you to set your DVR and watch their coverage. Like the “Making Of” documentary, this featurette is only available on Blu-ray.
Five deleted scenes are included, and all are actually quite good. Most provide more character development (particularly for Ellen Burstyn and Jennifer Garner) but, since they likely would have slowed the narrative, cutting them from the film was a wise move. A theatrical trailer is also included. Digital copies of the film for both Ultraviolet and iTunes are included.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Costner’s Draft Day is a worthy pick
Draft Day may not be as highly regarded as Kevin Costner’s other sports films, but it is just as entertaining and deserves a watch. Costner and Garner have good chemistry, and a strong supporting cast elevates the film. Ivan Reitman proves once again to be a versatile director, giving us a sports film refreshingly free of the standard cliches. It is well worth a watch, and football fans should add it to their Blu-ray collection.
Release date: September 2, 2014
Running time: 110 minutes
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English DTS-HDMA 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Standard English, Spanish
Special features: “On the Clock: The Making of Draft Day” documentary, “Welcome to Primetime” featurette, Five deleted scenes, Theatrical trailer.
Audio commentary: With screenwriters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman
Victor Medina is the editor of CollectoRamaShow.com and RevengeOfThe5th.net. His other writing credits include The Dallas Morning News, Yahoo News, Cinelinx.com, and SportsIllustrated.com. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To be notified of future stories by Victor Medina, click the SUBSCRIBE link at the top of the page.