A film review by Craig J. Koban April 18, 2014 


2014, PG-13, 109 mins.


Kevin Costner as Sonny Weaver Jr.  /  Jennifer Garner as Ali  /  Chadwick Boseman as Vontae Mack  /  Tom Welling as Brian Drew  /  Terry Crews as Earl Jennings  /  Ellen Burstyn as Barb Weaver  /  Frank Langella as Anthony Molina  /  Rosanna Arquette as Angie  /  Chi McBride as Walt Gordon  /  Denis Leary as Vince Penn  /  Wade Williams as O'Reilly  /  W. Earl Brown as Ralph Mowry  /  Kevin Dunn as Marvin

Directed by Ivan Reitman  /  Written by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph

There’s just something about Kevin Costner sports-themed films that always manage to resonate with me.  

Whether it be the minor league baseball comedy BULL DURHAM or the baseball fantasy FIELD OF DREAMS or the golf-centric TIN CUP, the star always manages to bring his ample understated charisma and innate believability to these respective films.  He just seems to confidently occupy a comfort zone here playing jocks, but in DRAFT DAY Costner changes it up more than a tad, opting not to play a world weary athlete and instead portrays a GM behind the scenes that faces various pressure cooker struggles during the 12-hour build-up to the NFL draft.  Even though this is a different type of Costner sports film – taking a heaving page from MONEYBALL in dealing with the business and backstage strategizing of putting a winning team on the field – Costner’s dependable and quietly authoritative stature carries the film through and through. 

I think DRAFT DAY is indicative of a new breed of compelling sports film, seeing as the standard enouncements of the genre have been literally done to death over the years.  DRAFT DAY – again, like MONEYBALL before it – takes great relish in chronicling all of the struggles that exist when executives, coaches, and owners get embroiled with not only other teams, but with themselves in trying to get their hands on players that will ultimately lead to a championship run.  Unlike so many other sports films – which are all about the athletes, what transpires on the field, and the proverbial “big climatic game” – DRAFT DAY is refreshingly insular in tone, mood, and focus.  Granted, the film never goes out of its way to portray its war-room personas as heroes (after all, these are multi-multimillionaires that often treat players as commodities and investments first and people a distant second), but the film – under the watchful and an observant eye of director Ivan Reitman – remains compulsively intriguing by grounding us in the stressful microcosm of the GM’s world. 



Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., a third-year General Manager of the NFL’s struggling Cleveland Browns that’s looking to make a “splash” for his team at the upcoming draft.  Alas, Sonny is besieged by many distractions along the way, like the fact that his father – a legendary Browns figurehead – died just a week ago, not to mention that his co-worker/girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant with his child.  Things get progressively more nerve-wracking when Browns owner Harvey Molina (Frank Langella) gives Sonny an ultimatum to either make a big move to save his franchise or face probable termination.  Things get rosier for Sonny when the Seattle Seahawks’ GM proposes a massive trade with him to receive their #1 pick…but that would involve the Browns forfeiting their next three consecutive #1 picks. Yikes.

Granted, the #1 pick of the draft is the seemingly unstoppable quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), the kind of dreamlike player that everyone wishes they could draft.  Facing the inherent pressure of doing what’s right for the Browns, Sonny reluctantly acquiesces to the Seahawks’ demands and partakes in the trade, which infuriates Browns coach, Vince Penn (Dennis Leary), who gets increasingly angry at Sonny’s insistence on not keeping him in the loop.  Nonetheless, Sonny continues on through towards draft day, but as the hours fly by and the beginning of the draft looms, he becomes plagued by insecurities as to whom to select first overall.  He really wants to draft Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman), an extremely gifted defensive player, but one that wouldn’t sell tickets.  Bo Callahan seems like a golden boy, but questionable details emerge that stymie Sonny’s willingness to draft him number one, which leaves the beleaguered manager even more desperate than before to perhaps make another move before or during the draft. 

I am by no means an expert on the NFL (I’m a born and bred hockey fanatic), but the boardroom dealings portrayed in DRAFT DAY ring with an authenticity and palpable level of stressful energy.  Best of all, screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph manage to make the whole technical apparatus of the NHL draft understandable to even lay fans of the game.  Better yet, the writing and smooth and assured direction from Reitman also manages to immediately relay the motivations, insecurities, and intense stresses that GMs face while methodically trying to one up the other in a bid to make a big move.  Most compellingly, DRAFT DAY argues – rather appropriately – that any team can single-handedly go from being an instant winner to a dud in a matter of mere minutes making the right or wrong decision during a draft.  Teams can be salvaged or damned depending on the reliability and validity of a GM’s draft choice, which makes their jobs all the more thanklessly difficult. 

I’m not sure if there is a better actor for this material than Costner, a performer that usually gets no respect for the way he subtly dials into his characters without any flashy pomp and circumstance.  Yes, whereas Costner lacks range as an actor he more than makes up for it in old fashioned movie star charm and everyman appeal, which makes the 59-year-old movie veteran a strong fit to portray Sonny as a man of both cocky, headstrong vitality and relatable vulnerability.  The beauty of his measured and crafty performance is that he has to portray Sonny’s outward calm when dealing with struggles that internally are gnawing away at him.  Costner is paired rather wonderfully with Jennifer Garner in many scenes, another underrated actress that manages to imbue her tricky role with just the right tough and sassy assertiveness to help elevate Ali above the moniker of a one-note girlfriend role.  Other players, like the feisty Langella as the Browns’ determined owner and Leary as their coach, also hit their intended marks.  It’s a great thing to see wonderful actors afforded the opportunity to work off of one another in one articulately written scene after another. 

DRAFT DAY builds, obviously enough, to the NFL draft, which involves Sonny making more moves that viewers will either find fiendishly ingenious or wholeheartedly implausible (I think that those intimately familiar with the sporting world would probably lean towards the latter).  Nonetheless, DRAFT DAY certainly builds towards its intense and nail-biting climax almost better than most traditional sports genre films.  It works rather well as a solidly paced and sharply written pro football flick that’s ironically never specifically about the players themselves, and at its core we have the stalwart spirit of Kevin Costner, who still shows the twinkle of a young, rule-defying maverick in his middle-aged and battle-hardened protagonist.  The dude’s still got it. 

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