“Draft Day rarely missteps and becomes a riveting picture that works as great entertainment at the movies.”
Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day reminds me a great deal of Non-Stop, one of the more surprising action films to be released in quite sometime. Both films could’ve been disasters with a few missteps, but thanks to terrific writing and effective editing, both films turned out to be a rousing good time.
Through and through, I was kind of astonished at what Draft Day managed to accomplish. The film manages to work as a humanization of the pressures and anxiety that faces numerous souls on the day of the NFL Draft, detail believable pressure that is put on a couch of a subpar team, show us the constant desire a team’s management faces in efforts to please their long-suffering fanbase as well as their front office, and show often contentious relationships between players, potential players, coaches, and owners.
These are lofty goals for a film that also wants to throw a romance, some creative editing, and some comedy in the mix, but Draft Day rarely missteps and becomes a riveting picture that works as great entertainment at the movies. For hardened football fans, it’s a rare and exhilarating up-close look at the inner-workings, and cutthroat, sometimes unfair negotiations that often plague the most significant and important day of the NFL offseason. In a rare instance, for casual viewers like myself, the film provides the same sort of delights. The game-lingo doesn’t become alienating, the film never juggles too many characters, and the film always maintains a linear timeline of events and narrative structure in order to not lose us less in touch.
The film follows Sonny Weaver, Jr. (Kevin Costner), the general manager for the Cleveland Browns who has been met with harsh criticism after a 5-1 season start morphed into a 6-10 finish after the team’s quarterback Brian Drew (Tom Welling) was injured. Sonny also has the pressure of living up to his recently-deceased father, one of the most renowned football coaches of recent time. We are introduced to Sonny and most of the Browns general management on the day of the NFL draft, twelve hours before the event begins with the clock ticking.
Sonny, however, still has deals to make, and is eyeing three promising players: quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), last year’s Heisman Trophy winner who bears a lot of promise, linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman of “42” fame), who bears a heart of gold and an unusual amount of commitment, and another promising rookie Ray Jennings (played by real life Houston Texans running-back Arian Foster). Up until the last minute, Sonny, along with the Browns head coach Vince Penn (Denis Leary), are cutting deals left and right, trying to secure a strong pick so Cleveland Browns fans will have a team to root for this season, so the team doesn’t come out like a bust this season at the draft, and to to simultaneously secure some sort of a future for the Browns financially and strategically.
Draft Day surprisingly benefits from some of the best editing I’ve seen all year in film, done by Sheldon Kahn and Dana E. Glauberman, both of whom have collaborated with Reitman in the past. Kahn and Glauberman toy with shots here, often using the split-screen method for telephone conversations, but allowing the characters to walk into each others frame and even cut past the central dividing line. This allows for a pleasantly different sort of shot-structure that keeps the film entertaining, especially as the boxes the characters are start growing or shrinking in size.
Finally, there are the writing team of Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothma, who devote a great deal of time to character-conversation and relations, making the film constantly changing in terms of who likes who, who is with who, and who supports who in their decisions. Joseph and Rothma keep these relationships in a state that is constantly brewing or changing rapidly, providing for consistent entertainment. However, one of their strongest moves is towards the end, when the final call has the ability to upset a great deal of people, stun many, and excite and please many, even with the outcome being unknown by all parties.
Draft Day‘s biggest misstep is offering a terribly cliche and uninteresting look at Sonny’s relationship with his assistant Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner), which goes nowhere and only serves as a slow-down point for all the excitement going on behind the closed doors and over the phone. In the long run, however, some will see Draft Day as a lesser Moneyball that only bears the difference of being a tad more comedic and more lighthearted and by-the-numbers. This is certainly true, the way I see it, but I also find it to be one of the most entertaining lighthearted, by-the-numbers flicks in sometime, offering up great aesthetic surprises, intriguing drama, and a well-warranted look at the behind-the-scenes inner-workings of one of the most beloved sports in America.
Review by Lead Film Critic, Steve Pulaski