When you hear of an American Football movie you instantly think of films like Any Given Sunday, Remember The Titans, or The Replacements, but Draft Day is different (and in a way most like Jerry Maguire); because it’s not bogged down with the game itself, but focuses solely on the business aspects of the sport, during one of the busiest days of the NFL season (from a management standpoint).
One day a year, beginning the NFL season, the National Football League hold their draft day; the day in which the year’s most promising college football players and rising-stars get drafted, turn pro, and join the ranks of the NFL; a process which not only highlights the best up-and-coming layers, but shapes the face of the NFL, and the teams choosing the talent, for the entire season.
With this in mind, Draft Day follows the exploits of Cleveland Browns’ general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner, Field of Dreams/Man of Steel), on the most trying day of the season, and his career, as he makes a huge trade in order to gain first pick in the draft, and spends the rest of the day taking flak from his co-workers (his boss, the teams coach, researchers and underlings alike), his family, and other general managers looking to get a better deal than him, as he pours all of his efforts into trade-making, researching potential picks, and deciding what he’s willing to sacrifice in order to improve the prospects of the team he’s helped build.
Costner is excellent as the leading man here, and believably capable of holding his own in such an intense, stress-heavy, working environment. He’s always been a strong lead, and whilst his character may not go through much in the way of emotional turmoil, he does have a few family dramas (including issues with a girlfriend, and the recent passing of his father), and occasion to lose his head, and it’s oddly compelling watching him attempt to make the right trades/pick and further the cause for his team.
Supporting stars also fare extremely well, as despite being only a modestly budgeted movie it’s filled with cast members you’ll recognise; Denis Leary (Rescue Me) is great as the ego-centric coach (though doesn’t get to rant as much as usual); Jennifer Garner (Alias) is well placed as the lawyer/money woman who doubles as Costner’s love interest (though their chemistry is a little lacking, and she never does anything exceptional); and every other supporting star (including Terry Crews, Frank Langella, Sean Combs, Sam Elliot, Tom Welling, and Rosanna Arquette) fills their limited roles with ease.
It’s an oddly compelling movie, even for people who aren’t interested in American Football, or the NFL, simply due to the fact it’s character driven; not only do you want Sonny to succeed (with the day he’s having, and how much it clearly matters to him), but you’d like to see how it pans out for the few players you do get to know. There’s also an element of mystery to the film, as throughout most of the day Sonny and his team are investigating one particular player (hinting at a grave weakness nobody else has spotted), and while the relationships mean little to nothing, and many of the characters aren’t fully realised, it’s the business aspects of Draft Day which are the most intriguing.
Ghostbusters‘ director Ivan Reitman has done something special with this film, and managed to take a day of business transactions, and make them engrossing viewing. Thanks to solid pacing, a fairly tight script (despite being somewhat generic, and containing some rather plain dialogue), a solid cast of recognisable supports held up by an always-watchable lead, and an interesting filming style (using multiple split-screens and countless back-and-forth wipes), he’s managed to make Costner a cellphone hero, and get everyone interested in the fever of Draft Day.
Still, it’s not without its problems; possibly going on a little too long (after the initial picks, we don’t really need to see what happens after Sonny’s made his team), and seems to have shoehorned in the family dramas in a attempt to provide any form of respite from the day’s business; and is an obvious straight-to-DVD pick mainly because the British public (on the whole) aren’t too excited about American Football.
What Draft Day does do well, is provide an interesting insight into the business side of America’s favourite sport (after bowling), and use an array of recognisable actors to prop up a potentially dull movie, and make it not only enjoyable, but engrossing. Reitman’s style works wonders, Costner is great (and far better than the script allows), and where else are you going to see a film like this?; Draft Day is the closest we’ll get to a Transfer Deadline Day movie, and a great Sunday afternoon film (particularly as it’s released on DVD on January 26th, just in time for Super Bowl Sunday on February 1st).