I’ll admit that everything I know about football I learned from Kyle Chandler. I know enough about movies, however, to guess that a football movie that doesn’t include any football is probably not bound to be a classic.
Released ahead of the real NFL draft, Draft Day apparently tries to capitalize on the success of Moneyball by focusing on the deals that go down to build a solid team with limited time and a limited budget. Specifically, the movie follows Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), general manager of the Cleveland Browns, over a twelve-hour period on the day of the draft. Still grieving the death of his father and dealing with complicated emotions about his girlfriend and team lawyer Ali (Jennifer Garner) telling him she’s pregnant, Sonny also faces pressures from Coach Penn (Dennis Leary) and the team owner (Frank Langella). That’s basically the whole plot. It’s not exactly scintillating.
There are some moments of excitement in Draft Day, but they mostly revolve around minor characters. I got emotional about the story of potential draft pick Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman), who seemed like a genuinely good guy taking care of his late sister’s sons. My investment, however, was due more to the sentimental nature of the story than character development. I can’t give the movie much credit for me being a sap. The rest of the time, Draft Day, like Sonny, seems stuck in an identity crisis. The focus on players like Vontae and the sports history of Cleveland suggests that the story is about love of football, but instead of actually doing anything to develop that theme, the plot centers on business deals conducted between men in suits over the phone. When the deals aren’t going down, Sonny and his team are busy trying to determine whether or not their top draft pick, Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), is the next Peyton Manning or a bust with a bad attitude. Their detective work is interesting-ish, but just as it starts to get good, Sonny pulls Ali into a closet for one of many non-conversations about fatherhood and their relationship. Is it a business movie? A sports movie? A love story? Maybe a bit of each, but none is done well.
Possibly in an attempt to spice up such a boring story, the movie features an array of flashy visual techniques, most of which are pretty annoying. I thought that the areal shots of cities and stadiums was a cool way to show the connection between cities and their teams. That worked. In order to show what different characters are up to at the same time or on opposite ends of phone calls, the movie plays with split screens in a way that dissolves the boundaries between the two sides of the screen. It sounds cool, but it really isn’t. It looks cheesy and contrived and is distracting in a way that only exacerbates how poorly written the story is.
It’s possible to develop characters the audience cares about on a short timeframe, but Draft Day doesn’t pull it off. The characters feel static, the dialogue stilted, and the actors don’t have much to work with. Even Jennifer Garner, who is as charming as they come, couldn’t lend the story any spark because her character is so shallow, just the token sports-loving woman. Further, she and Costner have no chemistry. In fact, Costner, a hero of sports movies looks like he’s phoning it in the whole time.
I will admit that I am not a big football fan. Further, although I love baseball, I was one of the few people who did not like Moneyball. So perhaps I am just not the right audience for Draft Day. Even keeping that in mind, however, I cannot think of anything about this film that really worked. I observed the other moviegoers around me and there was more fidgeting than usual and at the film’s end a young man two rows ahead of me loudly declared, “Well, that was cheesy.” Draft Day is not a good movie. I rate it 1/5 stars.
Draft Day was written by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph and directed by Ivan Reitman. It runs 109 minutes and is rated PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language and sexual references.