By Gary Murray
Starring Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner and Denis Leary
Written by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Running time109 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Matinee
The NFL is the biggest franchise league in the nation. With millions of fans and billion dollar stadiums, this tough sport has eclipsed baseball and basketball in shear monetary clout. But as much as the regular fan knows about players and strategy, little is known about how the teams are assembled. In the film Draft Day, director Ivan Reitman takes us behind the scenes in a fictional telling of a single day in the life of an NFL team.
Kevin Costner plays Sonny the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. It is Draft Day, the day that pro teams can pick players from different colleges. It is the dream of the elite of college students to be a part of a professional football franchise. It is the dream of the management to find that perfect player to make an impact with the existing team. Each management team must decide what will be the right fit for their teams.
The day starts with Sonny making a call to get a number one draft pick. In order to do this, he must give up three picks from future drafts, chasing a dream player rather than building a solid organization.
Coach Penn (Denis Leary) believes that doing this will destroy the future of the team. Penn thinks that Sonny is going after the hottest college quarterback in the nation even though they have a solid veteran QB. This kid could be a marquee player or a total washout. It is a million dollar decision that could have an impact on the team for decades to come.
The owner Molina (Frank Langella) wants the kid and number one draft pick. He believes that the player will fill the seats, the most important aspect of any owner. Sonny is no so sure of the young man. The kid has the talent but he may not have that intangible element of team leader heart. Sonny has doubts.
Added to this decision is Sonny’s personal life. He is secretly dating Ali (Jennifer Garner), who announces she is pregnant. She works for the Browns and makes sure that they stay under the salary cap. Basically, she’s a numbers person who has as much passion for football as she does for her man. Her role is more of a sounding board for Sonny.
Sonny also has a family dynamic problem. He had to fire the last coach who was also his father. This caused much animosity with both the fans and the family. Dad has since passed away and Mom (Ellen Burstyn) and Sister (Roseanna Arquette) seem to have their own agenda with Sonny. Everybody seems to want something from Sonny.
The film builds to the night of Draft Day and who Sonny eventually picks. This starts a cascade of horse trading and dealing where Sonny builds the team that he wants. Draft Day twists and turns while still staying in an Old Hollywood milieu. By the time the third act happens, there are few true surprises in Draft Day.
Ivan Reitman is the man who directed both Ghostbusters and Stripes, two of the biggest comedies of that decade. Lately, some of his films such as No Strings Attached, Evolution and My Super Ex-Girlfriend have not been as universally successful. This is a film that is more to the classic form in storytelling but not an off the wall comic achievement. There are some humorous moments in Draft Day but it is not a comedy. It is more of a drama with comedy elements.
With such a complicated story and many moving parts, the film could easily become confusing. But under the tutelage of Reitman and with the crisp script of Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph, this story just flows without losing any power. There are some interesting choices that the team makes in shot selection to tell this story, with split screens that float side to side.
Kevin Costner delivers another strong performance as Sonny. This role is a cross between the traditional lead man roles he did last decade the more character driven performances he has delivered in the last few years. He still looks comfortable in a role that is not his traditional action work.
It is nice to see Jennifer Garner on the big screen. The actress has been taking on the real-life role of mom instead of chasing a cinematic career. She gives a cool and even keeled reading of a character that has passion without being overtly passionate.
The mix of real NFL professionals and actors works well. There are so many interesting casting choices in secondary roles such as Sean Combs as an agent and Sam Elliot as a college coach. The film has a rich tapestry of different characters that give a true feeling of epic scope to the work.
Draft Day is a film about how the sausage is made. While it has some strong storytelling moments and interesting characters, it would have been more interesting to see a documentary on the subject that dealt with nothing but real football teams and players. The fictionalized version of events is not as interesting as the actual ones.