Former high school jock Kevin Costner seems to fare very well with sports-themed movies, and he scores once again with “Draft Day.”
To borrow a line from former Saturday Night Live comic Garrett Morris, baseball
has been “berry berry good” to him, with three cinematic homers to his credit,
including “Bull Durham” (1988), “Field of Dreams” (1989) and “For Love of the
Game” (1999). Now Costner tries his hand at football, not as a player but as the
beleaguered general manager of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver Jr.
Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”) directs this taut pigskin screenplay by Rajiv
Joseph and Scott Rothman, which takes place on the first day of the NFL draft, a
day that could prove as life-changing for Sonny as it does for a few hundred
young who dream of playing for the NFL.
Sonny’s personal and professional lives seem on the verge of careening out of
control as he gambles on his instincts while bartering with rival team managers
for the number one pick that just might help him rebuild his team. At the same
time he must figure how to do the right thing by his salary cap manager, Ali
(Jennifer Garner), who’s also his long-time girlfriend.
He’s also at odds with his quarrelsome coach (Denis Leary) and the overbearing
team owner (Frank Langella) who think his seemingly reckless trading tactics are
jeopardizing the team’s future; a disapproving mother (Ellen Burstyn) who –
like many Browns fans — is angry with him for firing his father, the team’s
beloved former head coach, who is now recently deceased; and the whole city of
Cleveland, which has gone too long without a winner.
Being a real-life sportsman with all-American good looks and an encyclopedic
knowledge of the game, Costner is completely believable as the gutsy and
determined leader of a professional football organization, and he looks right at
home in the actual headquarters of the Cleveland Browns. In fact, the Browns and
the NFL offered their complete cooperation to the filmmakers, which lends
technical accuracy and an authentic feel to the proceedings.
Garner, herself a real-life sports enthusiast, is also convincing as an
ambitious and whip-smart team administrator, at the same time sparkling and warm
as Sonny’s love interest, ally and conscience. The ever fine Burstyn is
especially sympathetic as the widow dedicated to the memory of her husband,
Langella is effectively intimidating as the Browns’ owner and Leary is amusingly
scrappy as the contentious coach.
NFL fans will also recognize several real-life players in the cast, including
Demario Davis, James Brewer, Ramses Barden, Zoltan Mesko, Stephen Hill and the
legendary Jim Brown.
But one doesn’t have to be a football enthusiast or possess any knowledge of the
draft process to become engrossed in this film, because the sport is really the
backdrop for a story about a man dealing with personal and professional crises
his own way, despite almost overwhelming adversity, building to climax that’s as
riveting as the final fourth-quarter minutes of a very tight game.
– Gene Triplett
3 1/2 stars
Starring: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Ellen
(Brief strong language and sexual references)