Welcome back, Kevin Costner! No one does a sports-related movie like he does and “Draft Day” is no exception. Directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph, “Draft Day” is the antithesis of “Moneyball.” “Moneyball” was for the brainiacs among us—using a statistical approach to baseball selections, while “Draft Day” uses the old-fashioned method of going by the gut for football picks. It’s something “Moneyball’s old-school managers would have appreciated. A cast of TV sports commentators, NFL bigwigs and ex-football players—all playing themselves—together with some of the best character actors in the business, help make “Draft Day” the entertaining film it is.
Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner) is the General Manager for the hapless Cleveland Browns (the GM concept may be hard for my DC friends to understand since it’s been years since our team had one—an inside joke). The Browns were once great…think Jim Brown who makes a cameo appearance…but haven’t been winners in years. However, on Draft Day, hope springs eternal—each team has a clean slate, so to speak—with a lot of wheeling and dealing taking place to fill that slate. Although a hopeful time, it’s also a stressful period for coaches, recruits and players, since no one knows with certainty what the future holds—when the trade of a current player or pick for a current or future pick can turn one’s world upside down in a nanosecond. This is what happens to Sonny when the Seattle Seahawks come calling with their number one pick. You might think you have it figured out, but writers Rothman and Joseph have some twists and surprises in store. And therein is the beauty of “Draft Day.”
Costner managers to capture entirely all of the emotions one in his position might experience—nervousness, elation, weariness and exasperation. His character feels this might be his one shot to get the team he wants, especially after having fired and inherited his late father’s team. Convincing throughout, Costner is really at his best in the wheeling and dealing scenes. Underrated Jennifer Garner is terrific as the team’s “capologist” (the person who manages business affairs and contracts for the team, monitoring what money is hitting the cap and when) and as Sonny’s not-so-secret girlfriend, Ali. Although she’s nervous, too, but for other reasons, she manages to be the voice of reason in a doozy of a day, professionally and personally. Her scenes with Kevin Costner and Denis Leary. as the newly hired coach, crackle. Chadwick Boseman, so convincing as Jackie Robinson in “42,” turns in another amazing performance as Vontae Mack, the college player who thinks he has a future with the Browns as their first round, seventh pick, only to watch his dreams potentially go up in smoke. Timothy Simons and Kevin Dunn (both great in “Veep”), Sam Elliott, Ellen Burstyn, Frank Langella, Terry Crews and Chi McBride are just part of the fabulous supporting cast that gives “Draft Day” its heft. But ultimately what makes this movie so successful is the script, the direction and most especially, Kevin Costner.
Last year, there was a painfully funny and sad obituary in the Columbus Dispatch (Ohio) paper about a man who requested that members of the Cleveland Browns be his pall bearers so they could let him down one more time. I like to believe this gentleman is smiling down on “Draft Day,” thinking, “If only.”