The question on everyone’s mind is whether ‘Draft Day’ scores a touchdown. With veteran leading man Kevin Costner, it manages to be an engaging behind-the-scenes look at the wheeling and dealings of the NFL draft. Costner is no stranger to sport movies. Two of his baseball classics are ‘Bull Durham’ and ‘Field of Dreams.’ He was also terrific as a washed up golf pro trying to make a comeback in ‘Tin Cup.’ His latest foray has the same elements as ‘Moneyball’ without the number-crunching minutia. Savvy director Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghostbusters) keeps the pacing tight with an intelligent screenplay written by newcomers Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman. You don’t have to be an armchair quarterback to enjoy ‘Draft Day.’
Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager for the struggling Cleveland Browns. His cellphone rings and he gets a tempting offer from another team. It gets the story out of the gates quickly without too much unnecessary backstory. For a big price (future draft picks), Sonny has the opportunity to get the hottest college prospect, University of Wisconsin quarterback Bo Callahan. On the surface, it seems like a slamdunk for the Browns’ franchise. Everybody wants Bo from the owner of the team Frank Langella to the blue-collar sports fans of Cleveland. However, Sonny’s gut feeling tells him otherwise and the clock starts ticking. Reitman uses clever devices to keep the drama suspenseful. We see Sonny negotiating the teams’ future on split-screen phone calls and flashy overhead shots of stadiums like “Seattle… Home of the Seahawks,” that makes the drama easy to follow.
The supporting players are solid. What would a sports drama be like without an attractive love interest? Jennifer Garner plays his girlfriend who also happens to be the team’s salary cap manager. If you think the age difference is far-fetched, remember this, former basketball coach Phil Jackson’s girlfriend is Jeanie Buss, co-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers with a 16-year age gap. It happens all the time in the world of sports and entertainment. Although their romance is a bit glossed over and doesn’t have the emotional pay off of the sports film ‘Jerry Maguire,’ it adds a hurdle in Sonny’s personal life that he must confront. He must also deal with the guilt of firing his father who happened to be a legendary coach for the Browns and now is deceased. It seems like a lot to pile on our hero but it gives the decisions he makes more weight. If he makes the wrong choices, it could mean the end of his career.
The endearing aspect of ‘Draft Day’ is that it effectively shows these million dollar athletes at the end of the day are human beings. What looks good on the scouting reports isn’t always the entire story. Sure, every team wants the best quarterback to play but that top pick might not be the best choice for the long-term interests of the team. This is where the character of the player comes into play. The tension continues to rise as the clock keeps ticking closer and closer to the draft. Besides the owner breathing down Sonny’s neck, he deals with the newly hired hot-tempered coach (Denis Leary) and his nagging mother (Ellen Burstyn). There is also a memorable performance from longshot draft pick Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) who makes the most of a role that will remind you of Cuba Gooding Jr.’s Rod Tidwell from Jerry Maguire. Boseman is a terrific actor who also played Jackie Robinson in ‘42’ and will be in the upcoming James Brown biopic, ‘Get on Up.’ And believe it or not, Sean “Puffy” Combs is solid as Bo’s sports agent.
For 49er fans, there is an important reference to Joe Montana and one of the most famous plays in the history of football known simply as “The Catch.” I’ll leave it at that. One other interesting element of the film is the reference to Twitter and how that adds another headache to Sonny’s decisions too. ‘Draft Day’ scores a solid B as a well-crafted sport movie. Check out the official trailer http://youtu.be/K3SlVsdUuBY.