Movie Review: “Draft Day” is final proof that the NFL is the league that Ate America

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“Draft Day” is a “ticking clock” thriller built around the NFL draft, a movie
that counts down to the fateful decision that one embattled general manager
(Kevin Costner) makes with his team’s first round pick.
It’s a reasonably interesting — to NFL fans, anyway — peek behind the
curtains at the wheeling, dealing and over-thinking that goes on as teams and
managers and coaches try to avoid looking as if they don’t know what they’re
doing. They’re nagged into making hasty or ill-advised decisions by agents and
the players they represent, and showboating owners who like to “make a splash,”
get their faces on ESPN and impress the hometown folks with their football
acumen.
The GMs have their own slang and their own swagger, which makes this a
natural for Costner, for decades, the movies’ go-to guy for jock roles. </P>
<P>But for the casual fan and the casual filmgoer, it can be a bit of a
melodramatic bore. This ticking clock thriller doesn’t really get going until
the teams are truly “on the clock.”</P>
Costner is Sonny Weaver Jr., GM for the hapless Cleveland Browns. They have
an antsy owner (Frank Langella) and a new, preening coach (Denis Leary) who
likes to flash his Superbowl ring under everybody’s nose. Will Sonny pick a
cocky, pushy defensive back (Chadwick Boseman of “42”) or trade up to land the
Heisman Trophy winner (Josh Pence)?
What’s fascinating in these wheeling and dealing early scenes is the way
gossip gets started, the way the veteran GMs play each other and read each
other. Rumors about the Heisman winner bubble to the surface.
“How important is winning, to you?”
Sports talk radio covers this sort of “How much does he want to play?” stuff
from a speculative point of view. “Draft Day” sets out to show how a Johnny
Manziel or Jadaveon Clowney’s stock rises and falls in the hours leading up to
their big payday.
“You only get drafted once,” Sonny tells his prospects. Better enjoy it.
 Sonny gathers intel from his staff and steels himself to make a decision he
knows the owner will not like. Then, more gossip comes in, and he’s on the
fence, which gets the coach all worked up. Everybody is playing the angles
against everybody else.
“You’re panicking, Sonny. I’m gonna take advantage of that!”</P>
What doesn’t work is the added melodrama in all this. Sonny’s dad used to be
the Browns’ coach. His dad just died. His mom (Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn) won’t
get off his back.
And his not-that-secret inter-office romance (Jennifer Garner) just gave him
some news.
“Draft Day” is an NFL and ESPN sanctioned dramedy designed to cash in on and
maybe goose interest in the draft, which TV and the league have turned into a
spring spectacle. It doesn’t have a lot of rough edges to it, nothing
unflattering to the league or the cable company in its back pocket, which only
serves to remind us how this sport swallowed American sporting culture
whole.
Costner and Garner are good and Langella properly menacing, but Leary has
lost his fastball and seems to be holding something back in his quarrel scenes
with Costner. Costner has to carry the film, which he does. But he hard a time
making this tale of accountants and agents and athletes with off-field issues
exciting. </P>
<P>Filling the screen with character players ranging from Chi McBride (a rival
owner) to assorted NFL Network and ESPN (past and present) stars, shifting from
city to city, stadium to stadium as the phone calls zip back and forth doesn’t
really ratchet up suspense or entertainment value.
But for the fans, it’s a competent eye-opener, a movie that makes you
understand Jets QB Geno Smith’s fury at falling out of the first round and the
sort of whispering campaigns that this closed culture of front office folks
mount to let them win in May, even if they don’t win in the fall.

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MPAA Rating:PG-13 on appeal for brief strong language and sexual references
Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Chi McBride, Frank
Langella
Credits: Directed by Ivan Reitman, written by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph.
A Summit release.

Running tmie :1:49

 

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