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'Draft Day' goes long, but audience determines score (review)

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Draft Day (movie)

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Kevin Costner certainly isn’t a stranger to sports flicks, thus selecting the veteran actor to headline “Draft Day” was an appropriate choice. Ivan Reitman’s film follows Cleveland Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner), offering a glimpse beyond the cameras and gargantuan NFL facades. Delving into the nitty gritty details of player profiles, inter-league transactions, and even off-field personas, “Draft Day” keeps the ball moving through the hectic NFL draft day (hence the title). The movie features a slew of cameos and maintains a doc-drama feel, which in combination should satiate die-hard football fans.

“Draft Day” kicks off on the morning of the 2014 NFL draft and chronicles Sonny Weaver Jr as he navigates the chaos. Weaver shuffles out of bed and the TV is already tuned to ESPN, where actual analysts, such as Jon Gruden, provide commentary on the upcoming draft. As with the real-world draft, talking heads spend months making draft predictions and analyzing draft stock. As football fans, this is the side of the draft we see. What we aren’t privy to are the behind the scenes franchise operations.

Enter “Draft Day,” where the fictitious Sonny Weaver Jr. is under pressure from fans, his family, his secret lover/colleague (Jennifer Garner), and the administration. Costner’s weary demeanor speaks volumes, explaining to the audience what Weaver Jr. keeps silent. The countdown clock is ticking, quite literally, and Sonny still hasn’t decided which of the prospective players should join the Browns roster. He’s narrowed it to three players: quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), Ray Jennings (Arian Foster), or Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman).

As may be assumed from the trailer, Weaver Jr.’s approach is unconventional, and his favor among both fans and his colleagues changes possession multiple times. One play may earn a first down, but a few downs later Sonny fumbles. This, of course, is part of the allure of “Draft Day.” Although fans hear about trades and deals, the transactional process of bartering for picks and players isn’t shown on TV. “Draft Day” illustrates the wheeling and dealing that comprises the NFL draft.

“Draft Day” is first and foremost a movie about football. The appearance is that of an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary: oft-recognizable talking heads abound, on-screen texts display location, and there’s even a countdown clock ticking away minutes until the draft. Additionally, the film concentrates on the business aspects of the NFL. While fictitious, it offers a diorama of what may occur within the office confines of our favorite organizations.

What may not be readily apparent is how much “Draft Day” delves into off field occurrences. Weaver Jr. deals with the recent passing of his father, a pregnant sort-of-girlfriend, and problems with his mother and ex-wife, all during the span of a day. For the uber-sterility of his pristine home and office, the man’s life is pretty chaotic. Additionally, the deciding factor of which players to draft derives from off-field performance, a relevant notion. With recent bullying scandals, gang allegations, and leadership problems, the onus has shifted from physical prowess to overall presentation.

Though “Draft Day” should satiate most football fans, it’s not a perfect spiral. Focusing on Sonny’s off-field life just as much as his professional niche is interesting, but feels cheap. The inter-office romance is a tad cliché, and dealing with his father’s death may not be the most original plotline. Combining the multiple personal issues that Weaver Jr. must grapple with on a singular day, moreover draft day, doesn’t appear realistic. Had the flick covered several days, this might make more sense. Give the movie credit however for focusing on non-sports issues as much as football. Though “Draft Day” hasn’t received the warmest critical reception, it essentially boils down to sports. If you love football, you’ll love “Draft Day.” If not, pass up this opportunity.

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