The behemoth that is the National Football League has long extended its reach beyond the boundaries of its season. With offseason training, free agent signings and more, the league can never provide too much fodder for its fans and the media that cover it.
The crown jewel of the NFL’s offseason is its annual draft of college players, an event chronicled in Draft Day. Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, a team that’s traditionally the doormat of the league. In the world of the movie, the Browns hold the No. 7 pick in the upcoming draft, and Weaver likely needs to make a splash in order to hold onto his job.
The presence of Kevin Costner in a sports movie does help keep it entertaining even when it shouldn’t be.
A variety of characters help or hinder his decision-making, including Ali (Jennifer Garner), the person in charge of making sure the Browns stay under the salary cap, who also happens to be his girlfriend; head coach Penn (Denis Leary), who wants Weaver to draft a running back to complement his rising quarterback; and Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), the owner who’s breathing down his neck at every turn.
Among the hopefuls looking to be the Browns’ pick are Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman), a linebacker who’s impressed Weaver with his prowess and poise; Ray Jennings (real-life Houston Texans running back Arian Foster), son of a former Brown hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps; and Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), the perceived No. 1 pick whom everybody seems to love, except for Weaver.
Unlike other films that have to use fake team names and uniforms, the NFL stamp is all over Draft Day. Personalities from ESPN and the NFL Network are front and center from the get-go, as well as NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and others associated with the league.
Consequently, the film has the sheen of realism that helps carry it for a little while. Unfortunately, that masking of the film’s flaws doesn’t last long. Apparently thinking that the behind-the-scenes wheelings and dealings of team executives might not be enough to carry the whole film, co-writers Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph toss in a series of personal issues for Weaver, none of which land with any weight.
Although the back-and-forth drama about whom the Browns will take or whether they’ll try to move up in the draft can be interesting, especially for fans, the filmmakers hedge their bets a bit too much. They repeatedly throw in stories about the NFL’s past as words of wisdom for one character or another, but it comes off more as their trying to prove their football knowledge than great or useful dialogue.
Also, it’s difficult to imagine many NFL general managers acting in the reactionary, unsubstantiated way they do in several instances throughout the movie. That’s not to say that the moves they make couldn’t happen, but to say they’re far-fetched would be putting it mildly.
However, the presence of Costner in a sports movie does help keep it entertaining even when it shouldn’t be. His confidence and calmness in the face of situations that call for the opposite make Weaver into someone for whom it’s easy to root.
Garner is good as Ali, although the role calls for her to do little more than reassure Weaver that he’s on the right track. Leary, Langella and others generally stay within their wheelhouses, meaning that they never offer anything truly surprising.
Draft Day is a mostly innocuous film that’s essentially a feature-length advertisement for how great the NFL is. That may work for hardcore football fans, but for movie buffs looking for a great time at the theater, it’s a bust.