The good news is that Draft Day features one of Kevin Costner's most satisfying performances in quite some time. It's the kind of performance that reminds you exactly what he continues to find work despite a career long win-loss record not too far removed from the Cleveland Browns.
Okay, I'm exaggerating. Costner does have the better win-loss record.
Directed by Ivan Reitman, whom I'm pretty sure has officially become known as Jason's dad, Draft Day is just about precisely what you'd expect from a film centered around the NFL draft. Costner plays Sonny Weaver, Jr., the general manager for the Cleveland Browns. If you're even remotely familiar with the softer side of professional athletics, then you already know that the Browns have had a long history of professional football mediocrity that serves as the foundation for a film that is for the most part a fictional tale based within the very real world of the NFL. Costner's Weaver is a football guy who has grown up in the shadow of his legendary father, a shadow from which he's never escaped and working for the Cleveland Browns makes one wonder if escaping is even possible. In addition to his professional woes, Sonny has only recently found out that he's about to be a father after having an affair of sorts with one of the team's financial execs (Jennifer Garner).
With a whole lot to prove from just about every angle, and co-writers Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman do let their imaginations run a bit too wild, Weaver is under pressure from the team's owner (Frank Langella) to pull off a high profile draft, a draft that presents the obvious high profile option, quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), a player deemed likely to be taken #1 by the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks, however, have another plan and propose a trade that gives the Browns access to the player many consider a franchise player. Unfortunately, the trade will also render the Browns ineffective for years to come as they will have to give up their first round picks for the next three years.
The team owner wants the trade.
The team coach (Denis Leary) loathes the idea of breaking in a rookie quarterback while still possessing a promising young quarterback (Tom Welling) who has come back from the off-season in top notch condition.
Oh, and in case you've forgotten, Weaver's going to be a father. Don't forget.
Draft Day has the expected twists and turns as Weaver contemplates having the team he's always dreamed of while also dealing with the very real pressures of a team owner who wants results now. He's also, of course, dealing with egos involving players who aren't exactly thrilled at ending up on one of the NFL's perpetual bottom dwellers.
The film could have easily been a one-note sports flick, but it possesses a genuinely good spirit and such an affectionate reverence for the NFL that anyone who is even remotely fond of football will find quite a bit to enjoy here even if the film truly never gels into a cohesive unit. Costner gives a genuinely appealing performance and he has a comfortable, believable chemistry with Jennifer Garner. Garner could easily do this kind of role in her sleep, but to her credit she stays wide awake and turns her Ali into one of the film's highlights.
Chadwick Boseman, who was so memorable in last year's under-appreciated 42, is solid once again and Denis Leary adds his usual spark as a former Dallas Cowboy with a Superbowl ring and more than a little attitude about it. Frank Langella and Ellen Burstyn round out a solid supporting cast.
Made with full cooperation from the National Football League and featuring quite a few familiar names, Draft Day doesn't quite have the emotional and intellectual resonance of recent films like Moneyball and 42, but it will likely be good enough for those who choose to see it.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic