Director: Ivan Reitman
Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Sam Elliot, Sean Combs, Terry Crews, Ellen Burstyn, Chadwick Boseman
Release Date: April 11th, 2014
“Every battle is won before it is ever fought.” That famous Sun Tzu quote adorns a poster on the wall in Manager Sonny Weaver’s office in the new feature Draft Day. Kevin Costner, cure taking on a solid leading role here, stuff stars as Weaver– the idealistic manager of the Cleveland Browns football team. As the story opens, there Weaver has approximately twelve hours remaining on the clock before the National Football League draft begins and he chooses how to build his team for the upcoming season.
Taking over the job previously held by his late father, Weaver is struggling to escape the shadow of that man’s legacy. The day of the football draft, he believes, is the first day he can build his own dream team. Of course, the 31 other teams in the football league are also trying to build their own teams and legacies which leads to a day full of negotiations, deals and manipulations between opposing teams.
Director Ivan Reitman smartly steps back from the “game” aspect of football and views it as a business where players are traded in order to fulfill an ultimate goal (winning the Super Bowl). Like the superior Moneyball (which focused on the business of baseball), this entire story revolves around one man’s drive to create a unified team that can— during the regular season— rise to greatness.
Weaver leads his team with the hesitant assistance of Coach Penn (Denis Leary) and the support of his assistant/girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner). The driving force throughout the proceedings is Weaver though and he oftentimes– to the disbelief of both his fellow managers and the audience– makes his decisions from his gut.
Although some of the minor storylines weigh this drama down (including a silly one about Weaver’s mother wanting to scatter her husband’s ashes hours before the draft), the story succeeds in presenting a different side of the game. This feature isn’t about what’s on the field as much as it’s about the lives and livelihoods at stake off the field. With the exception of Weaver himself, the best characters here are the players who receive little screen time but are discussed endlessly. There’s the rising star quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), a player named Ray Jennings (Arian Foster) who just wants to continue his family legacy on the Browns and Brian Drew (Tim Welling), the underdog quarterback that the Browns already have on the squad.
As the story continues, the clock slowly winds down as if it’s an action movie counting down to the moment a bomb will explode. But the action here is all political as coaches are managers play one another behind the scenes, like in a national game of chess.Director Reitman even uses a neat trick here showing different frames of the action taking place at the same time. In some of those, characters from one frame even stand in top of the other frame— showing the battle in action as one player attempts to gain power (i.e. great players and privileges) over another. It’s an efficient and likeable drama that gets the job done and nicely closes out the proceedings not with a field goal but with a checkmate.
Review by: John Hanlon