We can always talk football
Draft Day is directed by Ivan Reitman and stars Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Sam Elliott, Ellen Burstyn, and Chadwick Boseman.
The norm for football movies is to have a "magical" season unfold on the football field, while players, coaches, etc. deal with some kind of drama off the field. So when a football movie like Draft Day comes around, one that's purely dedicated to matters happening off the football field, it's valid to claim the movie as a little more fresh and innovative. Anyone who watches a sport knows that a lot happens behind the scenes: players getting in trouble with the law, trades between teams, and players, coaches making comments to one another, comments that could be made known to the public. In Draft Day, "behind the scenes" means conversations between general managers, players, and other football personnel in regards to making the right decisions on one of the biggest nights in the NFL.
As a passionate football fan, I must admit I have some personal affection for Draft Day; even though the film has fictional players and fictional personnel, it does make me feel a little giddy inside watching people engage in football talk, especially since football season is upon us at the time of this review. The NFL draft is a topic of hot debate months before it actually happens: which team will draft which player(s), who will end up being a bust, and how will everyone view the draft results a few years down the road? Then in the summer months after the draft, everyone starts to debate how the newly drafted players will perform in the upcoming season. As interesting as all of that debate and analysis can be, Draft Day is only concerned with the prognoses made up to the actual day of the draft and the fun to be had during the draft itself.
The story takes place on the day of the 2014 NFL Draft. Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner), the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, is trying to decide how to use the seventh overall pick in the draft. However, Sonny is currently dealing with other problems: his father has recently passed away and his girlfriend Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner), the Browns' salary cap analyst, is pregnant. Tom Michaels (Patrick St. Esprit), the general manager of the Seattle Seahawks, calls Sonny that morning with an offer to trade for the Seahawks' first overall pick. According to just about everyone in the NFL, the first pick in the draft should go to quarterback prospect Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). Sonny declines the trade, but under pressure from Browns team owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), Sonny agrees to the trade. Now with the number one pick in his hands, Sonny is pressured to make the right decision, for the future of Cleveland Browns football depends on it.
Originally, Draft Day was to center on the Buffalo Bills, but the studio changed it to the Browns, due to lower production costs in Ohio. However, anyone with a working knowledge of NFL football should have a hard time accepting that lower production costs was the sole reason that the Cleveland Browns were put at the forefront of this fictionalized draft. Since they returned to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have been a constant example of football mediocrity, burning through players, draft picks, and entire seasons with little to no success. They have had a top pick in the draft almost every year since their return to the league, so honestly, what other team would make sense for Draft Day to center on?
- For a film that's pretty light on actual plot, Draft Day does a fine job of keeping itself interesting, mostly because it takes the time to explore its characters deeper and not limit them to purely cliched sports figures. Kevin Costner is great as Sonny, and there's some fun to be had in watching Sonny have various conversations with players and other Browns personnel, as he tries to figure out a plan for what to do during the draft. If you think about it, there's no real hero or villain at work here; it's just football people doing their thing, making moves that they believe is best for their team. These are characters that could very well be real-life people, and none of them come at the viewer with an inspirational speech or a major underdog story, trite, sentimental stuff that would normally induce groans instead of tears. In short, there's a sense of inherent realism in Draft Day, something that I believe elevates it above other football movies.
- I honestly have nothing from Draft Day that I could say bothered me in any significant way, other than the constant use of a split screen when Sonny is on the phone having a conversation with someone. It's neat to see it the first one or two times, but afterwards, it starts to get annoying, as one character on the phone walks across a room, jumping from the left side of the frame all the way to the right and vice versa (the other character on the phone awkwardly stands in the middle). I'm not sure if Ivan Reitman found there to be any kind of artistic value in the use of the split screen, but as far as I'm concerned it eventually turns into a bit of a distraction, especially because the vertical line that's supposed to be creating the split screen likes to drift left and right for no apparent reason.
As a football fan, I was very pleased with Draft Day. It's an entertaining glimpse into some of the activities that go on behind the scenes in the NFL, even if some of it is kind of predictable. Non-football fans are likely to have a hard time enjoying it, since the movie requires you to know how the NFL draft works. But whether you're a football fan or not, I'd still recommend the movie, because it doesn't settle for the usual sports movie cliches. There is no "magical" season or a team overcoming the odds to win it all; it's a sports movie purely for behind the scenes affairs, affairs that are handled by human beings who don't need to be an underdog in order to make the right decision. Draft Day may not make you fall in love with football, but it can show you that the sport is much more than just the violent chaos you see on the field.
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