Sports movies often have a bit of a stigma in that if you make a football movie then while football fans will probably want to see it there’s no guarantee that anyone else will. The best sports movies get around this by doing something pretty clever: not really being about sports.
Draft Day is one of these. It’s a well put together drama with a great cast doing what they do best in a movie that happens to be set in the office of an NFL football team.
The story revolves around Kevin Costner’s Sonny Weaver Jr., General Manager of the Cleveland Browns on the day of the 2014 Draft. The team had a poor season last year so they have a reasonably high pick in the draft this year.
There are three players on the table that have Sonny’s attention, the slick quarterback Bo Callahan who is assumed to go as the first pick in the first round. The down home defensive end who skips going to the draft ceremony to spend the day taking care of his recently orphaned nephews (in case you weren’t sure who was the good guy) Vontae Mack, and running back Ray Jennings, the son of a former Browns star.
The Browns are set to pick seventh but on the way to the office the GM of the Seattle Seahawks calls and offers Sonny a trade. The first pick overall this year (and the potential to pick up the slick quarterback) for way too much.
That same morning Sonny has been given some news from his secret office girlfriend (played by Jennifer Garner): she’s pregnant. He also takes a meeting with the team owner (sunglasses sporting Frank Langella) who also gives him some news: make a big move today or Sonny will be looking for a new job.
This sets up Sonny for a busy day.
I’m not going to lie to you: yes, much of what you expect to happen from the set up I’ve outlined is exactly what does happen in the movie. What makes the movie worth watching is that the cast, Kevin Costner in particular, all bring their A-game to the script, and the story takes some interesting turns to get to the place you expect, and then once the movie is there it reveals that Sonny isn’t just good at his job, he’s great at it.
Through all of this the movie manages to do one thing exactly right: it makes the movie about Sonny and not about football, so when Sonny does make his big move everyone is suitably impressed and realized “oh yeah, we hired this guy for a reason.”
Kevin Costner is, as I said, kind of great in this. He projects the paternal aura of authority and just the right amount of “leave me the hell alone” when the plat requires it. Jennifer Garner is fine, she could do better but she doesn’t have much to do really. Chadwick Boseman is fantastic as Vontae Mack though, having all the charisma here that he didn’t seem to have in his last sports movie 42.
Frank Langella and Dennis Leary are also pretty much perfectly cast as the team owner and the crotchety coach respectively, and they are used pretty much the perfect amount.
Director Ivan Reitman has crafted a pretty good little movie here. Not a great one mind you, it does have some pacing issues switching back and forth from frantic draft day dealings to how-do-we-feel-about-each-other moments between Costner and Garner and while I really liked the use of split screens to keep the phone conversations tight and engaging I could see that a lot of people might not.
At the end of the day Draft Day isn’t a great film or high art, but what it is is a well made, engaging movie which is fun to watch (even if you know how parts of it will play out) and doesn’t need you know much about football (it even tells you what teams are in what cities when it needs to). Is it going to win any academy awards? No, probably not. Is it worth seeing? Yes, yes it is.