Kevin Costner is entering life’s fourth quarter without a consistent playbook. His most recent movies have been a bland franchise reboot (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) and a generic action flick (3 Days to Kill). Now he’s returned to the familiar world of sports movies.
Costner is too old to play athletes any longer – he turns 60 in January – so here he plays fictional Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. in a movie about one of the most crucial days in the NFL calendar.
There’s plenty of shimmying here, maybe too much, and lots of spin moves, but it’s missing on-the-field results.
A countdown clock informs us right out of the gate that there are less than 13 hours until the start of the draft, when teams will try to get the best players they can for the upcoming season.
This clock pops up on screen throughout the film in a tiresome way of forcing dramatic tension. A much more annoying stylistic tic is how director Ivan Reitman will swoop cameras over various stadiums to remind us where we are in negotiations, with screen titles telling us “Buffalo: Home of the Bills” or “Jacksonville: Home of the Jaguars.” But that pales in comparison to Reitman’s frequent use of split screens that shift and move and even have characters stepping over them.
Sonny’s got much more to worry about than split screens, however. His dad was a beloved Cleveland coach whom Sonny fired the year before and who has just died. His mom (Ellen Burstyn) is guilt-tripping him, his team’s owner (Frank Langella) is breathing down his neck to pick a hot-shot quarterback whom Sonny isn’t sure of, his coach (Denis Leary) is screaming for a running back and Ali (Jennifer Garner), a team lawyer he is dating, isn’t happy with him either. Meanwhile, Sonny races from one phone call to another, making trades with other teams and trying to suss out potential players.
Football fans will enjoy the cameos packed into Draft Day. Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, has a talking part, ESPN announcer Chris Berman is in there, too, and there are appearances by several real players.
Sports movies that go looking for drama not on the field but in the general manager’s office have so far been a genre of one. There’s no doubt the success of Moneyball played a part in Draft Day getting the green light. But Moneyball had two advantages over Draft Day (not counting Brad Pitt).
One, Moneyball was based on a hugely successful book. You might say that the NFL has a fairly large fan base, but the more diehard a fan is, the more laughable he or she will find Reitman’s treatment of the draft. No one would behave the way Sonny does, and few if any of these trades would ever be made. Even basic things such as the order teams pick in are wrong here.
The other, bigger, problem is that we never get to find out if the team Sonny puts together actually has the stuff to succeed. This is what helped make Moneyball so compelling. Without actually seeing the Oakland A’s winning games, Billy Beane is just a guy with a dream in his heart and a math nerd by his side.
As any football fan can tell you, you can do whatever you want on draft day. It’s what happens when the game begins that counts.