“Thirty-two teams. Seven rounds. Two hundred twenty-four young men who today are about to become players in the National Football League A day when lives are changed, fates are decided, dynasties are born, and the clock is always ticking. Of course I’m talking about draft day.”
This voiceover featuring the dulcet tone of the iconic Chris Berman of ESPN heralds the beginning of “Draft Day,” an entertaining new film about the NFL draft starring Academy Award-winner Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, and Denis Leary.
Obviously this film is quite timely because the NFL draft begins on May 8, and although the movie offers an intriguing look at how the general manager of one pro team manipulates things to get the best possible deals, you must remember that the events in the movie are completely fictional. Nevertheless, “Draft Day” is a lot of fun.
The film opens in the home of Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner), general manager of the Cleveland Browns, on the morning of draft day. Naturally it’s the most important day of the year for pro football moguls because the success of their respective teams depends upon the players they manage to select during the draft. The day is particularly stressful for Sonny, however, because he also has recently learned that Ali Parker (Garner), his girlfriend and the attorney who monitors the salary cap for the Browns, is carrying his child. And Sonny has some additional baggage involving his mother and father that is revealed as the film progresses.
At beginning of the day, the Browns have the seventh overall pick in the draft, but after several phone calls and some wheeling and dealing, Sonny manages to secure the prized No.1 pick. Because much of the film’s fascination involves the conversations and bargaining among managers, coaches, and owners in order to achieve a better position in the draft, I won’t reveal any of that here. Suffice it to say, however, that watching Sonny put his job and his reputation on the line, despite the disapproval of fans, Browns owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), and the team’s coach Vince Penn (Leary), is what makes the film so interesting.
One of the key phrases during draft day is “on the clock,” and from the time Sonny wakes up, the clock is ticking for him to pull off some kind of miracle to strengthen his team. Molina tells him that he has to “make a splash” for the fans, and this puts tremendous pressure on Sonny, but he’s not the only one feeling the tension of the day. Indeed the anxiety experienced by the potential draftees is almost unbearable.
Among the many things that keep the film so riveting is the way it switches back and forth between the bigwigs negotiating the deals and the players awaiting news of which team selected them. The consensus first-round pick is Wisconsin quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), but when things don’t go his way at first, it’s amazing to see what effect this has on his stock.
Costner, who certainly isn’t the most emotive actor in Hollywood, really nails the part of the beleaguered Sonny as he convincingly runs the gamut of human emotion during the film. All of the supporting players, including Garner and Langella, also turn in nice performances, and cameo appearances by famous people from the world of sports like Roger Goodell, Jon Gruden, Mel Kiper, Deion Sanders, Bernie Kosar, and Jim Brown definitely add an aura of authenticity to the film.
Although “Draft Day” qualifies as a football movie, you don’t see much actual gridiron action in it, but the competition in the officers of various general managers and owners is every bit as fierce as it is on the field during the season. As director Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”) pointed out in the production notes, however, the film goes deeper than just football.
“Draft Day is a story about football of course, but it’s really a story about relationships. In particular, familial relationships with his mother, and with his father, who had just passed away the week before. There’s also the story of the three potential rookies that could be drafted. Draft Day is a life-changing event for 5,000 college players who have devoted their whole young lives to the hope and dream that one day they were going to be part of a professional football team, and very few of them finally make it. By shooting during the real draft, we had this opportunity of meeting some of the real people who are in the midst of all that and witnessing the extraordinary weight that’s on their shoulders and what a life-changing event that one day, that one night becomes.”
Also in the production notes, Costner offered some interesting commentary about the character of Sonny.
“Sonny is taking a beating that day and it is coming from everywhere — from his mother, from his girlfriend, from his own boss, and from a town that has gone too long without a winner. It’s all falling down on him to the point where he can’t even turn a corner or turn on the radio without hearing his name. It’s not his imagination that there are people after his head.
“Sonny makes a decision, but on the surface, it doesn’t feel right, but he just keeps clawing. He doesn’t give up, he doesn’t run to the shadows, and eventually, almost like in football, a gap starts to open, not by design, but because he didn’t fade. He hung in there, and a gap came, and he stepped through it. Some people thought of it as genius that he would do that, something that was a manipulated plan, but I saw it as somebody who didn’t give up and when the opening came, he still had a clear head, and he saw it. Sometimes when you’re going to be the leader of some group, and you have to evaluate talent, you do it in an unconventional way because maybe you see things that other people don’t see.”
As a lifelong football fan I really enjoyed “Draft Day,” and I loved the way the film takes you behind the scenes to watch all the maneuvering and scrambling to obtain the best players possible. Let’s give “Draft Day” a preliminary score of six because it definitely scores a touchdown on the silver screen, and then we’ll add a two-point conversion for some fine acting and a superb script. Thus the film ends up with a solid eight with no need for instant replay.