Let’s give this to Kevin Costner–he’s king of the sports movies. From American Flyer, one of his first starring roles, to Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, and Tin Cup, he’s personified the American attitude about sports. And he has, now in his late 50s, continued that trend with Draft Day, a movie about the esoteric world of the professional football amateur draft.
I saw this with a couple of friends, and we all agreed that we liked it better than we thought we would. The script is funny and smart, Costner is at his best, and there are some clever twists. But we also talked about the football draft, which now generates almost as much press as the actual season does. One friend said she can’t watch the draft, but I have watched it, and against my better judgement. It tends to suck you in, and you get involved with the stories of the players, the ones who sit there in the green room, surrounded by their families, waiting to get picked.
There’s a lot of that drama in Draft Day. To be sure, the claims that this film could have been called “Men on Phones” is true. In many ways it’s like Moneyball, although without the romantic allusions. Football is not a romantic sport. Baseball is a business, yes, but it has literary flights of fancy. There is no romance in football. It is strictly a business.
Costner stars as Sonny Weaver, in his second season as general manager of the hapless Cleveland Browns (the script originally had the team as the Buffalo Bills, who have been equally hapless as of late, but Cleveland has a much richer football history). He’s had an interesting week. His father, longtime coach of the Browns, passed away, but not before being fired by his own son. His girlfriend, also a co-worker (Jennifer Garner) has told him she is pregnant. And it’s draft day, and he’s just a made a trade with Seattle for the number one pick.
Everyone thinks it will the Heisman Trophy winner, a white quarterback. But Costner likes a linebacker from Ohio State (well played by Chadwick Boseman). The brash coach, Denis Leary, likes a running back. Over the course of the day, Costner will deal with all those people, his image-obsessed owner (Frank Langella), his mother (Ellen Burstyn) and other teams, and try to do the best for the team.
From what I know about the draft, the action here seemed authentic, and those who treasure the art of negotiation will have a blast. But beyond that, I found the dialogue witty and laughed out loud several times. That this is a sports movie that doesn’t have any sports action in it may seem blasphemous, I can appreciate that, but this film really isn’t about football, it’s about horse-trading.
The director, Ivan Reitman, tries to spice things up by using various camera tricks during the many phone conversations, and frankly they call attention to themselves. But aside from that, the film is easygoing and well-paced.
It probably helps to know and love (or at least like) American football to fully appreciate Draft Day, but I don’t think it’s essential.
My grade for Draft Day: B.