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Review: Draft Day (2014)

Draft Day (2014)

Directed by: Ivan Reitman

Premise: The general manager of the Cleveland Browns (Kevin Costner) attempts to rebuild his franchise in a flurry of deal making on the day of the NFL draft.

What Works: The first thing to understand about Draft Day is that it isn’t really about football just as Moneyball wasn’t really about baseball and Tucker: A Man and His Dream wasn’t really about cars. This is a movie about business and the art of the deal. It has enough of a football vibe to appeal to sports fans but the story is told in such a way that it ought to transcend the game and be enjoyable by those who don’t know a touchback from a touchdown. Draft Day is made with a lot of energy and its visual style incorporates the graphics and rapid editing of sports broadcasting and of football in particular. That energy makes the movie a great deal of fun and it successfully captures the spectacle that makes football so entertaining. As a business movie, Draft Day is primarily about the deal making and the way in which the fortunes of the Browns wax and wane over the course of the day is very satisfying. A movie like this invites the filmmakers to bury themselves in sports statistics but this film largely ignores that in favor of more humanistic elements like the disposition of the players. Even if that isn’t entirely credible, the filmmakers stay focused on what works best for the drama of the story. When the characters do spout sports statics its relevance is usually obvious enough and the focus remains on the characters and the interplay between them. Draft Day benefits from a few strong performacnes in the supporting cast. Denis Leary plays the Browns head coach and Leary tones down his sometimes maniacal acting style and is an effective counterweight to Kevin Costner, who plays the general manager. Chadwick Boseman plays a potential draftee and in the few scenes he has Boseman gives his character a lot of humanity. Also notable is Griffin Newman as a hapless intern. Newman is a source of comic relief and he plays the emasculated part effectively against the other macho characters.

What Doesn’t: The filmmakers of Draft Day are a little too emphatic about energizing the movie. Many of the scenes in Draft Day involve characters talking on the telephone. The filmmakers are able to make those conversations sufficiently cinematic by using a split-screen technique in which images fly in with a wipe. But this gimmick is used too often and the wipes become distracting as do the many overhead shots of football stadiums. But the primary flaws of Draft Day are in its script. The narrative suffers from too much plot getting in the way of the story. The first act of the picture introduces a lot of supporting characters, mostly athletes and their managers who are vying for a place on the Browns’ roster. The film also includes a pair of domestic subplots, as Costner’s general manager discovers that a female executive, played by Jennifer Garner, is pregnant with his child and he deals with his mother (Ellen Burstyn) on the anniversary of his father’s death. The subplots do not add very much to the story, they distract from the narrative thrust of the film, and few of the plotlines are done well, especially the domestic ones. The romance between Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner is a nonstarter. The two have little heat between them and the romance between a general manager and a subordinate creates an ethical problem that the filmmakers never address. There is also no getting around the fact that Draft Day in a 109-minute commercial for the NFL. Like this year’s The Lego Movie and 2013’s The Internship, the movie is an extended product placement and Draft Day undermines some of its drama in the process. The movie ends on a conclusion in which virtually everyone gets what they want and that lack of compromise comes across a little dishonest especially in something as cutthroat as the business of a billion dollar sports league.

Bottom Line: Draft Day is a competent film and it succeeds as a story of crafty deal making amid the glamor of professional sports. It is not a classic like some of Kevin Costner’s baseball films but it is satisfying enough to entertain sports fans and pedestrian viewers alike.

Episode: #488 (April 27, 2014)