Draft Day – A Review

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The NFL draft is really boring.

I say this as someone who has sat through this event on more than one occasion. As it was pitched to me, it sounded like it might be somewhat interesting – the NFL teams strategically pick new players for their team, trying to get the best players before they get scooped up by other teams, but not overpaying for players that they don’t need or that they could get in later rounds. As someone who enjoys football, I imagined that this would be exciting, but in practice it was just a lot of sitting around waiting for teams to make their selection of people that I didn’t really know much about since I’m not a huge college football fan. Even when I had done some background research, it’s still a pretty anticlimactic process since you have to wait several months to see if these picks pan out. I’m sure hardcore fans find this riveting, but for me it was like watching paint dry. So I did what every self-respecting person does when they are doing something that they find excruciatingly boring to make someone else happy – I drank and made ridiculous wagers to liven up to proceedings. After a few adult beverages, I didn’t find Mel Kiper or the draft any more exciting that I had previously, but I also didn’t really care that I was bored out of my mind. Occasionally something exciting happens – Brady Quinn took so long to be drafted that I had to be woken up to see it happen – but mostly it’s just a lot of taking heads and watching clocks tick down.

In that sense, the new Kevin Costner movie Draft Day captured the experience of the NFL draft pretty well – nothing much really happens and not much transpired that I couldn’t have predicted within the first ten minutes of the film. Draft Day is just a lot of waiting around for something interesting to be presented, though they do their best to distract you from the nothingness with some inane relationship and family stuff. Draft Day is a football movie for people that don’t really care that much about football; it’s a fine sports film, but doesn’t have much of anything original to say.

Draft Day focuses on the events of the day of the NFL draft; Costner stars as Sonny Weaver Jr., the General Manager of the Cleveland Brown – a team that hasn’t been successful in a long time. Facing pressure from the fan base and the Browns owner (Frank Langella) to “make a splash” this year, Sonny must decide what he is willing to sacrifice when presented with the opportunity to get the Browns the #1 draft pick. The situation is further complicated by his romance with a team executive (Jennifer Garner) and combative relationship with the team coach (Denis Leary), as well as the recent passing of his father who also happened to be the former coach of the Browns. That’s a whole lot of outside drama that has been pulled into the picture, perhaps to widen the appeal of the film. The proceedings at the actual draft don’t occur until the last 15 minutes of the film, so these other story lines help keep things moving until the titular event occurs.

Kevin Costner is perfectly charming in Draft Day; the man seems to be most at home in sports movies nowadays. I’ve never been a huge Costner fan, but he does fine work as Sonny and struggling with what he thinks is best for the team while also protecting his legacy and job. I like Jennifer Garner as a person – she appears to be good people – but I can’t say that I’ve ever been all that impressed with her as an actress. Draft Day does nothing to change my opinion – she’s not bad, but she’s not great either. To be fair, she isn’t giving a heck of a lot to work with, but she fails to elevate the material much beyond the blandness on the page. I’m not sure that I buy her as a potential love interest for Costner, but at least that means that there is a woman depicted in the executive staff of an NFL team (though, for an executive she sure seems to be getting a lot of people coffee). Denis Leary seems to be having fun being a jerk and he’s just the right amount of annoying in the film. I hope that’s what they were going for. None of these characters have a ton of depth – we know the most about Sonny out of necessity, but the rest of the cast are just broad archetypes without much definition.

The film does its best to ramp up the tension, but unfortunately  is a fairly predictable film. I was pretty sure that I knew the ultimate outcome well before it was revealed – the only question was the details of how we were going to get there. It’s all very vanilla and while that isn’t necessarily a terrible thing, it doesn’t make for a very exciting movie. Sports movies tend to follow the same basic script and the fact that the NFL collaborated with this film is clearly evident. You can see the fingerprints of the league all over this overly sanitized look at the NFL. The film definitely tries to make it look like character is a huge factor in deciding who to put on your team and while I’m sure that it is a contributing component, reality implies that your skill on the football field is a much bigger deal than if you are a nice guy or not. When you have current players who have felonies or who have been accused of sexual assault or other deplorable behavior, it’s kind of a hard to sell that a guy who may have fibbed a few times is a cancer to a team. It’s nice in theory, but in practice if you can throw a ball down the field for a touchdown, it doesn’t really matter if you are a jerk.

Some other thoughts:

  • This movie was originally supposed to be about the Buffalo Bills, not the Cleveland Browns. As I was watching the film, I kept mentally substituting “Bills” for “Browns” in the script. I don’t think they had to do a lot of rewrites. Both franchises are kind of pathetic.
  • I cheered when they showed Ralph Wilson Stadium in the film – I don’t know if that’s frowned upon, but I did so quietly.
  • I’m not sure that the Jacskonville Jaguars are going to be particularly psyched with how they are depicted in the film.
  • He doesn’t have a ton to do in the film, but that is indeed Chadwick Boseman (42) as Vontae Mack. He is the Bo Jackson of sports movie athletes.
  • Sean Combs (aka Puff Daddy, aka P Diddy) also appears in the film as an agent.
  • I was particularly excited to see Timothy Simons (Jonah, Veep) as part of the Browns team.
  • The assistant to the owner of the Browns is named Heather. Not really relevant, but that made me happy.
  • I have obviously never been through an actual draft experience, but I have been through a lot of fantasy drafts and always found them stressful. That being said, I never panicked as much as some of the people in this film.
  • Of course they managed to work in the obligatory reference to Tom Brady being drafted in the sixth round.

Draft Day is a perfectly OK movie – not really a ringing endorsement, but that’s ultimately the most accurate description of my feelings about it. In an attempt to appeal to a lot of people – including the NFL so that they would give them access – the result is a pretty bland movie that felt very generic. If you are a big Costner fan you may be more enthusiastic about the film, but I wouldn’t waste your money to see it in the theater. It’s a movie that would be good to watch on a Sunday afternoon while folding laundry – it doesn’t require a lot of attention and it is a pleasant enough experience without being memorable or compelling. Like the real NFL draft, there aren’t a ton of surprises in this film; if you are well versed in sports movie clichés, there isn’t much new to see here. When it comes to selecting your next movie to view, Draft Day is a third round pick at best.

 

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