Kevin Costner has a great track record with sports movies: “Field of Dreams”, “Tin Cup” and “Bull Durham” all hold fairly revered spots in the canon of the genre, so fans have pretty high hopes for his latest film. In “Draft Day”, Costner stars as Sonny Weaver, the embattled general manager of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns. The film follows Weaver through one tumultuous draft day, the outcome of which may sink his team or poise them for unprecedented success. “Draft Day” lands in theaters on Friday, April 11, leaving with NFL devotees with a month to dream about their own team conjuring up some draft magic before the real deal kicks off in early May.
“Draft Day” benefits from a top flight cast that includes Jennifer Garner, Chadwick Boseman, Frank Langella and Denis Leary, as well as a host of NFL players and personalities in addition to leading man Costner. It is also buoyed by strong support and involvement on the part of the NFL, which lends the film a feeling of authenticity in the face of a story that is a work of fiction. Presumably, the choice to go with a fictional story in a real world was made to allow creative flexibility––though the unfortunate record of the Browns since relaunching in 1999 will lead many to joke that it was Cleveland fans trying to manufacture success that hasn’t been in the cards in real life. While the characters created for the film are compelling, it is a bit jarring to watch a film play out about an alternate reality NFL, when there are so many fantastic human stories within the sport that beg to be told.
The end result of this blend of fact and fiction is an undeniably entertaining picture that is as much a story about the human condition and relationships as it is about football, but no matter how many scenes Garner steals––and there are plenty of them––it is quite difficult to ignore the sensation that “Draft Day” is really just “Moneyball” translated from a true baseball story to a fictional gridiron drama. Garner is to Costner as Jonah Hill was to Brad Pitt, and though imitation is the highest form of compliment, it’s not exactly thrilling to watch. Costner’s wheeling and dealing is amusing enough, but that doesn’t stop Sonny Weaver from feeling like a less dynamic version of Pitt’s take on Billy Beane. The end of “Moneyball” was predictable to some because it was a major sports story, the end of “Draft Day” is predictable to all because it’s telegraphed from the word go.
There are many worse ways to spend 109 minutes than watching “Draft Day”, it’s not as strong of a film as it aspires to be, mostly because it feels like a watered down imitation of a much better film that came before it; however, it still enjoys a number of strong performances, delivers laughs and gridiron fans will appreciate the peak behind the curtain of one of the biggest events in the NFL.