Draft Day

Full disclosure: I am a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan. This means two things. One, I know nothing but despair, and two, I probably know more about the subject that Draft Day deals with than your average reviewer although I’ve read a few reviews of this and it is bringing us Browns fans out of the woodwork, so maybe not.
There are some eerie parallels between this film and real life. In the movie and in reality the Browns are going into an important draft with an untested General Manager, a new coach, and a relatively new owner. In each case there is an intriguing quarterback on the roster who played well last season but got hurt and then the team’s fortunes sank. And the Browns have an early draft pick but not the number one.
Early in the morning on the day of the draft, Browns GM, Sonny Weaver Jr., played by Kevin Costner, gets an offer from Seattle to trade for the number one pick and the rights to draft Bo Callahan, played by Josh Pence, a quarterback out of Wisconsin, who all the draft analysts agree is a sure thing. His owner Anthony Molina, played by Frank Langella, is pressuring Sonny to make a big splash on the offensive side of the ball. So reluctantly Sonny trades away three years of first round draft picks to get the number one, even though he believes in the team’s current QB, Brian Drew, played by Tom Welling. His new coach, played by Denis Leary, just arrived from Dallas, where he won a Super Bowl (not everything parallels reality here) wants running back Ray Jennings, played by Arian Foster, who does a pretty good job and may have a future in film when he retires from the NFL. Sonny, himself, really likes Ohio State linebacker Vontae Mack, played by Chadwick Boseman.
To top things off, Sonny has some personal problems that are coming home to roost. His father, legendary Browns coach Sonny Weaver Sr. died the week before and his mother, played by Ellen Burstyn wants to spread his ashes on the practice field named after him on that day. There is obvious tension with his mother. Plus Sonny’s casual affair with his capologist, Ali, played by Jennifer Garner, has resulted in her pregnancy.
The script for Draft Day is very well researched. The writers, Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph are knowledgeable about how the draft and indeed, the NFL works. They took some liberties for dramatic reasons but for the most part they got it right. Likewise they seem to be well informed about the tragic history of the Browns. The move was mentioned and also the years of losing after the return in 1999. I was very impressed with their research.
Ivan Reitman directs and gets good performances out of everybody. Costner isn’t stretching here but he’s fun to watch. Jennifer Garner comes across as a smart sexy former tomboy who loves what she does and loves football. Even the cameos with sportscasters, league commissioners and athletes don’t provide embarrassing moments.
They use split screens during the many phone calls in the film and Reitman does this thing where occasionally someone will spill over onto the other side of the screen, sometimes they even cut across the other half and then back into their own setting. I had read about this beforehand and thought that it was going to be a distracting gimmick. But it actually works. Draft Day’s plot is almost solely advanced in these phone calls and for the most part phone calls aren’t very cinematic. This technique provides an injection of energy into what could have been a static visual.
In the end Draft Day is as much a financial thriller as it is a sports movie. It takes place, after all, in the off season when no games are being played. There is no built in drama of an athletic contest. There are only the phone calls and the wheeling and dealing. The only clock is the compressed timeline of one workday, the biggest day in the offseason.
The maneuver Sonny pulls at the end is probably fantasy but maybe not that far out of the realm of possibility. It is a cheer inducing moment, however, at least for me. I’m not sure how a Steeler fan would feel about it and I don’t really care either. I just hope that Ray Farmer, the real GM of the Browns can do just as well as Kevin Costner next month.

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