DRAFT DAY

Ivan Reitman‘s Draft Day may look like a sports films, but it’s more of a workplace comedy as Kevin Costner deals with the most stressful day of the year as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who — with his job on the line — starts the day by making a trade for the number one pick of the draft. Though it takes a while to get going, once the film gets up to speed, it starts cooking and delivers a very satisfying conclusion.

The Players:

Plot:

After succumbing to pressure from owner Anthony Molina (Langella), Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) trades three first round draft picks for the Seattle Seahawks’ number one draft choice. That would likely mean that he’d have to grab Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), the hottest talent to emerge, but Weaver has had his eye on both Vontae Mack (Boseman) and legacy player Ray Jennings (Arian Foster) whose dad Earl (Crews) is a former Brown. Coach Penn (Leary) thinks this was a miserable trade as he’s happy with the current quarterback Brian Drew (Tom Welling), so Weaver has to figure out over the course of the day if Bo is worth it and why Seattle might have let him go, while also dealing with the fact that Sonny’s girlfriend Ali (Garner) — who also works with him — just told him she’s pregnant, and that his mother (Ellen Burstyn) wants have a funeral ceremony for his father on that day.

The Good:

  • Form and Function: Draft Day builds tension on through its structure, which is that Sonny has hours to figure out what he’s going to do with his golden ticket, a ticket he didn’t even want to start with. So the film starts deliberately and keeps building. Though the pieces are in place in terms of what direction he could go, what’s great is how it keeps options open. There’s a reason to doubt that Bo is the next great player, but there’s also reasons to believe he might turn into a great.
  • Well/Likeable Cast: Ivan Reitman has showed a genius in assembling ensembles in films like Ghostbusters and Dave, and here he has a great deep bench of players. Performers like Sam Elliot and Pat Healy show up for a scene or two and deliver, while leads like Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner know these characters well, and know how to have fun with them. This is an old school Hollywood film in that way as well, as it places people you like into characters you know they play well.
  • The Pay Off: How Sonny resolves the day is perfect. As with most great sports movies like The Longest Day, Diggstown, and Rocky, it delivers the right knock out punch when it has to.

The So So:

  • Set Up: The only way to tell this movie is to have people on their cell phones, which leads to a lot of back and forths between people in different parts of the country. Reitman spruces up the editing by playing with split screens in a radical way, so it’s fun to watch them, or at least he makes them more dynamic than most phone calls. At the same time, it’s a lot of phone calls, and he can only do so much to make them interesting. It’s the sort of film that it’s hard to tell if it will be more fun to watch on repeated viewings, or — for those who like it — that the ending delivers so strongly that you forget the set up is so dense.

The Bad:

  • Dad’s Funeral: The stuff about Sonny’s relationship with his dad adds an interesting texture to the movie, but that his mom wants to have a funeral event on the day of the draft seems to go against her knowledge of how important the day is. Perhaps it’s meant to be a teachable moment, but it makes you hate her character in the way it plays on screen.

Overall:

Draft Day isn’t driven by comedic performers, which makes it weird in that its comedy (and it’s funny) is more about people dealing with a stressful situation, which is another way it reminds of Reitman’s earlier Dave. Reitman has always shown a gift at getting the best out of his stars and he does a good job here of giving Kevin Costner his best role in his 2014 renaissance. Though slight, this is a fun film which offers enough to think  about after it’s over, and compelling and interestingly flawed characters.

Rating: 7.9/10

Draft Day opens everywhere April 11.

Photos:

Trailer: