“Draft Day” Movie Review

     At the very least, director Ivan Reitman’s new film “Draft Day” will connect with hordes of faithful and frustrated Cleveland Browns fans if for no other reason it gives them hope for the future and excitement for the upcoming season.  Whether or not the fans of other NFL teams, as well as the movie going masses, enjoy the film or not depends how compelling the story is without the rose colored glasses of your average “Dawg Pound” member.  In the film, Kevin Costner returns to the genre he has previously excelled at, appearing as fictional Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver. After successful stints with other teams, he inherited the Browns job and became his late father’s boss, who coached the team at the time.  After his passing, and with the Browns in a typical rebuilding year, Weaver is looking to make a splash in the NFL Draft following a solid coaching hire in which he brought in Coach Penn (Denis Leary), a Super Bowl winning coach with the Dallas Cowboys.  For most NFL fans,  the events in “Draft Day” will be highly familiar and not really surprising given the amount of access people can get through the internet, as well as programming on television.  The filmmakers literally could have interchanged any NFL team into the story.  So why did they choose the Cleveland Browns? Simply put, everyone loves the story of an underdog.

     I’ve alway found it amazing that within the time frame of both the NBA and NHL playoffs, as well as MLB Opening Day, everything comes to a grinding halt to make way for the NFL draft, which it should be noted takes place in the off season!  No league has established itself with more of a rabid fan base than the NFL.  Fans crave it everyday of the year, and the NFL, knowing this, delivers the spectacle as often as possible, keeping people interested and tuned in as they wait to see where the next big star will land.  It is likely the fully NFL endorsed “Draft Day” is a product in which the league saw an opportunity to both capitalize and give fans an inside look at the thought process that goes into making the decision of who to draft.  Screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph, at the least, have nailed the reasons why the draft has become must see television, but the story they use to glue everything together isn’t nearly as strong.

     Weaver, while driving to work on the day of the draft, is listening to sports talk radio as the host is talking about him and what decision the fans feel is best for the franchise going forward.  When the comments don’t paint him in a positive light, he takes it well, likely because he knows he has the full support of the owner and being the boss he is fully confident he will make the right choices.  Reitman takes full advantage of the locale, inserting numerous montages of Cleveland’s famous landmarks and their fans who are dedicated to their sports teams.  It’s made clear by several of the main players that Weaver’s decisions in the draft will determine the direction the Browns go in the future.  To make such a splash, that normally means drafting a franchise quarterback and there just so happens to be one available.

     The film chronicles Weaver’s contacts with a number of high profile prospects he has on his radar, as well as his dealings with rival GMs who aren't always forthright as to who they intend on drafting.  With an owner wanting to make a big statement, Weaver, holding the 7th pick in the draft, is looking to move up and select Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), the can’t miss prospect who is seen by many as the top player on the board.  Knowing the needs of the Browns, the Seattle Seahawks GM, Tom Michaels (Patrick St. Esprit) calls and offers the number one pick in the draft, but with it comes a steep price.  The many scenes Reitman stages that involve Weaver and his team of scouts debating the merits of drafting Bo Callahan or going with their other high rated prospects are among the best in the film.  The tactics used in making deals, the slight of hand, the posturing, and the agents who represent the players all play like its the real deal, especially because of the built in authenticity from being able to use actual NFL teams in the story.

     I think “Draft Day” would’ve been fine if it were a story solely about the draft and the interesting back stories of the principals involved, particularly the college players whose futures are in the hands of guys like Weaver.  Vontae Mack (Chadwich Boseman), a highly touted linebacker, is featured throughout the film, but his story is only presented in the now with a cliched profile in which he needs to be picked as high as possible in order to provide for his family and young children.  Ray Jennings (Houston Texans real life running back Arian Foster) is also a solid prospect on Weaver’s draft board, yet we only meet him briefly and left with the fact his father, Earl (Terry Crews), once played for the Browns and wants his son to follow in his footsteps.  Both of these guys play a crucial role, but we aren't given the opportunity to really know them.  If Weaver were to go in another direction, would we care? Instead, the focus remains on Bo Callahan and his agent, Chris Crawford (Sean Combs) as Weaver spends an enormous amount of on screen time vetting his prized quarterback.

     Rather than learning more about these players, Reitman goes with a manufactured and clunky romance between Weaver and the Browns’ resident salary cap guru, Ali (Jennifer Garner).  Between scenes involving the draft, Weaver and Ali find a closet to hide in within the Browns’ headquarters to talk about a relationship I am confident in saying you will not care about.  That aside, Reitman has created a very unique sports film that has enough going for it to possibly entertain a wide audience.  It’s difficult for me to imagine an NFL fan balking at the drama that unfolds, unrealistic as it is, and Cleveland fans are likely to prefer this over porn, given the choice.  As Weaver, Costner looks larger than life in a role he is as comfortable playing as his classic turns in “Field of Dreams” and “Bull Durham”.  The actor has appeared in four films since last summer, but “Draft Day” is by far his best performance in over 10 years.  GRADE: B