Moneyball was a baseball movie that wasnt about the sport of baseball but the business of baseball, based on a real story. That one did pretty well at the box office. So, reasoned Hollywood, lets make a football movie thats not about the sport of football. Draft Day isnt quite as business-minded, and its a fictionalized version of an event that affects the entire National Football League, not just one team.
The title refers to the day that NFL teams pick their new recruits from rosters of promising young players. Though there are 32 teams involved in the process, first-time screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph, under the direction of veteran comedy director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Dave) place the action in the backrooms of the Cleveland Browns (though the original script had the Buffalo Bills).
Its the big day, and the Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) who, two years earlier, took over the job from his dad a man beloved by fans has a lot on his mind. Much of it revolves around the fact that he really wants the all-important first pick of those new players, and will do almost anything to get it. But theres a lot more than just the draft rattling his brain on this day. His longtime secret girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner), who works with him as the teams money operations manager, has just announced that oops! shes pregnant. Coach Penn (Denis Leary), who knows more about the team than anyone, is at odds with him because of deals Sonny made without his input. Team owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) keeps butting in, but he doesnt know a thing about football. Desperate young players, and sometimes their equally desperate parents, are vying for Sonnys attention. Fans and sports talk show hosts are convinced that hes making foolish mistakes and will never be as good as his father who, wouldnt you know it, died two weeks earlier. His mom (Ellen Burstyn) is hoping hell carry on his fathers legacy.
This is a football movie with emotional turmoil at its center instead of football. But its also surprisingly light and breezy, without being a full-fledged comedy. The best thing about the film is probably the casting of Costner, for whom the role of a guy with a lot on his mind, trying to do the best for everyone, is a perfect fit. But the best thing for audiences is that, through strong scriptwriting and storytelling, it works for both hardcore football fans and those who dont know the difference between an end zone and a drop kick. Its a movie filled with interesting people, every one of whom knows the intricacies of the game, and its about the relationships between them.
With all of this swirling around the films periphery, one story does develop, that of seemingly every general managers desire to get the likely number one prospect on his team. That would be up-and-coming quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence, perhaps best known for playing one of the Winklevoss twins in The Social Network, but having actor Armie Hammers face digitally attached to his body). Hes that number one pick that Sonny wants, but a search ensues to see if there are any skeletons in his closet, and there just might be. Another of the films best assets is Sean Combs playing Callahans manager. Combs has proven to be an excellent character actor in previous films. Its too bad he doesnt get more screen time here.
But theres so much going on in Draft Day, you wont be thinking about one actors potential. The filmmakers have developed a very cool split screen effect in which characters appear to be walking in and out of conversations in different locations. A regular dose of comedy relief comes in the form of Rick the Intern (Griffin Newman). The complications of the Sonny/Ali relationship keep popping up but never get in the way of the main story. A tension-filled last act, filmed at an actual draft day event at Radio City Music Hall, is exciting and colorful. Its still odd to consider a football film thats not about football. But heres proof that it can work. Draft Day is really about the making of the deal and about gut reactions.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
DRAFT DAY Written by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph ; directed by Ivan Reitman With Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Ellen Burstyn, Sean Combs Rated PG-13