Draft Day is a ‘football’ film that has less than 10 minutes of actual gridiron play spread out over its entire running time. If you’re expecting workouts, drills, game footage, or any of the football coverage you’d normally see in a sports movie, your expectations are way off with director Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day. Instead, this dramatic film focuses on front office maneuverings/shenanigans and is character-driven rather than dependent on the action on the field moving the story along.
As dry as watching an NFL team’s General Manager make decisions leading up to his time on the clock at the NFL Draft sounds, to Reitman and screenwriters Scott Rothman & Rajiv Joseph’s credit Draft Day does hold the audience’s interest. Clever editing and camera work allow a significant amount of scenes featuring Kevin Costner as Sonny Weaver Jr talking to other GMs in different locations to seamlessly and fluidly merge together into frame. Because so much of the dialogue takes place in this manner, Reitman had to come up with different visual tricks to make these phone conversations hold our attention. He succeeds, and Reitman also does a terrific job of pacing the film toward the final act when all of Sonny’s wheeling and dealing plays out during the draft.
However, there are a few missteps that slow the pace down. For some reason it was decided there needed to be a side-story about Sonny’s relationship with the woman who crunches the numbers for the team (played by Jennifer Garner) and how he’s unwilling to commit even after she’s announced she’s having his baby. The whole pregnancy storyline is not only unnecessary but intrusive, feeling as though it’s been shoved in in order to please a wider demographic. Women love football and really don’t need to have a love story involving a man who’s struggling to come into his own following the death of his popular coach father and a woman who’s strong, independent, and a football fan who just happens to be in love with a co-worker in order to get into Draft Day. In a way, by inserting this pregnancy angle Draft Day feels as though it’s playing down to half the audience and the end result is that female football fans could feel patronized. My gut reaction halfway through was that the filmmakers were dumbing down the story by inserting such a silly side plot.
On the upside, Draft Day is loaded with terrific performances. Costner leads the way and is once again his engaging, charming self as he portrays a man who’s always walked in his father’s shadow and is ready to build his own legacy. Garner, who has decent chemistry with Costner, overcomes the unnecessary pregnancy plot line and holds her own in the film’s male dominated world.
The Bottom Line:
Your enjoyment of Draft Day will be dependent on A) your knowledge of football, B) your ability to put aside expectations of a football film, and C) how much you like Kevin Costner as an actor. Costner’s in just about every scene and Draft Day rests squarely on his shoulders. And because he’s built up so much goodwill in sports movies over the years, Costner’s able to guide the film over the hurdles thrown up in his way. While it’s not his best sports film, Draft Day is an engaging behind-the-scenes look at an aspect of football previously unexplored in a feature film.
Draft Day opens in theaters on April 11, 2014 and is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and sexual references.
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