To the uneducated football fan, the NFL draft is a series of men walking up onto a stage to hold a colorful looking piece of clothing and wear a crisp new baseball cap. However, to someone who knows the game and embraces all aspects of it, this ritualistic unofficial start to football season marks a new beginning. The NFL draft marks the start of another season of America’s obsession, that which is the National Football League. To try and depict this event in a realistic fashion is a brave endeavor; so leave it to sports movie legend Kevin Costner to take the project of “Draft Day” under his wing.
In an interview with Colin Cowherd on ESPN Radio, Costner stated that a well-made sports movie depends not on the action happening with the playing service; rather it’s about the characters that gravitate toward the lunacy and pandemonium that which is professional sports. “Draft Day” does an exceptional job of completing that task.
The story centers on Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager for the disheveled Cleveland Browns football team. Weaver Jr. has been designated with the task to make a “splash” in the draft, with the overshadowing consequence being that if he doesn’t do a high quality he’ll be fired. Costner’s character must balance his personal morals, values and relationships in order to find the perfect draft pick. Easier said than done.
Weaver Jr. has to deal with the personality of the new on-the-field leader of the Browns, Head Coach Penn, played by Dennis Leary; the former “Ladder 49” star does an exceptional job playing the role of a sneer, arrogant and rather unappealing coach. The other scene-stealer is Griffin Newman, who plays Rick the Intern. While Coach Penn is blunt and unapologetic, Rick is innocent and rather flabbergasted with the entire idea of being bombarded with various duties on the most important day of the NFL offseason. Credit should be given to Newman for adding levity to an often impulsively and unexpectedly tense movie viewing experience.
“Draft Day” does have some cracks in its overall pleasurable experience. For example, the romance between Weaver Jr. and his colleague Ali, who’s played by Jennifer Garner, is fickle. At times it’s amusing and deep, but other times it’s over the top and regrettably cliché.
Another area where “Draft Day” is handicapped is in its finale. Kevin Costner has been part of the classic sports movies “Bull Durham” and “Tin Cup,” and in both the main character does not necessarily climb to the top of the heroic mountain. The more grounded, less uppity, endings to such films are gratifying because you see a character arc that’s complex, tragic and somehow inspiring; “Draft Day” does not have the same character depth as Costner’s other sports films, and that is why the predictably everyone-wins ending is necessary.
In the end, “Draft Day” does a grand job bringing NFL fans into the world of the NFL draft. Bringing a surprising sharpness to the football aspect of the film, Costner uses his sports-movies credibility to make this silver screen football experience much deeper than a simple rah-rah time.
Stanko Rating: B+