With the 2019 NFL Draft just mere hours away, it is an excellent time to look back on a film (one that I watch every year around this time) released five years ago that delves into the event and the circumstances leading up to it: Draft Day.
Summit Entertainment’s Draft Day is directed by Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) and written by Scott Rothman (Army of One) and Rajiv Joseph (Nurse Jackie). The film stars Kevin Costner (Field of Dreams), Jennifer Garner (13 Going on 30), Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther), Denis Leary (The Amazing Spider-Man), Terry Crews (The Expendables), Josh Pence (The Dark Knight Rises), Patrick St. Esprit (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), and Frank Langella (Frost/Nixon).
The film’s IMDB synopsis is as follows:
“It’s draft day in the NFL, and as General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny is forced to come up with a big move. After trading for the number one pick, Sonny has to choose between a lower-ranked linebacker with a questionable past, or a celebrated quarterback with a questionable future. All the while, Sonny is walking in the footsteps of his father, and personal complications force their way to the surface.”
One of the film’s best parts is a result of the NFL allowing their brand to be featured in the film. Due to the NFL also embracing the film to make the NFL Draft feel like a real experience, they featured real-life NFL highlights and people, including halfback Arian Foster, former analyst Chris Berman, current analyst Deion Sanders, the current head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Jon Gruden, NFL Network legend Rich Eisen, and the commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell.
Starting with what works well in the film, I have to begin with Kevin Costner. He is fantastic as always. He carries the movie on his shoulders and delivers even when it stumbles. He takes what is given to him and goes above and beyond to make the audience believe it. Costner is one of very few actors in Hollywood that consistently delivers in unique ways that play to his strengths. He often brings out the best in those around him as well, which is true again in this film. His repertoire of sports films is remarkable and Draft Day continues the legacy.
Jennifer Garner is definitely an underrated part of the film. Even though you can tell her character, Ali was unnaturally placed into the script at times, she does great work utilizing her persona and shines every time she is on the screen. Her dialogue is easily the best of the cast not necessarily because of the script, but due to the way she delivers and brings it to life.
While not the hit sports film he is remembered for (that honor going to 42), Chadwick Boseman does a superb job here. Despite his character, Vontae Mack, edging on the side of being too stereotyped, he keeps the balance by nailing the intimate and heartfelt moments to offset the loudmouth, high-energy persona his character goes above and beyond to show. It is because of Boseman’s acting chops that he creates sympathy for a character that would have otherwise been forgotten about.
I am unashamed to admit that my favorite actor makes an appearance in the film: Tom Welling. When I first heard of the news that he was cast, I became ecstatic. His character, Brian Drew, feels so natural in the story since the Browns are potentially looking at replacing him with a young star from Wisconsin, Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). Despite the unforgivable lack of screen time for Welling, he really shines. He brings forth multiple emotions in his confrontation with Costner in a way that feels consistent with his character and how an older professional athlete in those shoes would feel. If only the story would have focused more on this subplot and less with irrelevant ones.
That is what brings me to what does not work with Draft Day. Reitman has some great films under his belt as a director and despite the cast’s liking of him, his directorial approach to the film does not work for me as a whole. Rothman and Joseph’s screenplay does not help in the slightest, but Reitman is ultimately responsible.
The entire reasoning behind the plot of the story and certain elements introduced later are not believable because of how farcical they are. For example, you don’t just trade your team’s future for the 1st pick in the draft just to please a demanding owner without doing any background research on which player you are going to draft – especially since the player you really want to draft, which isn’t made aware to the audience until nearly the 3rd act, is not projected to get selected until well after your current pick before trading up. You trade up for the player you want to draft if you feel as though he will be gone by your pick. It shouldn’t be about the pick, but instead about the player that will please the demanding owner.
The editing of the film is also less-than-stellar. I understand that they were trying a unique way of piecing together the film, but at the end of the day, it feels cheaply done and does not help the film.
Going back to Rothman and Joseph’s writing; I completely understand the intent of what they were going for, but it just does not work overall. Too many subplots do not work due to minimal screen time and extremely convenient tie-ins that are not believable. The dialogue at times is cringe-worthy and certain small-role characters feel like stock characters or caricatures. They only serve as a means of quick entertainment and do not serve the overall story as they should. Denis Leary and Frank Langella do the absolute best they can with the material they have, but both characters suffer from this as well – and don’t get me started on either the Browns’ intern or the Jaguars new GM. Yikes.
Overall, the film is a mixed bag that has some good moments along with the not-so-good ones. I know my criticisms might sound slightly harsh, but it is because I care so much about not only sports movies in general, but the NFL Draft itself. With all of the talent in the film, it should have been better. Either way, Draft Day provides football fans with a film about the event that gives college stars a chance at stardom in the NFL and an opportunity for teams to improve their franchise for years to come. That alone is cause to celebrate, hence my annual viewing. Plus, come on, David Ramsey (Arrow) makes an appearance, which is a fun surprise.
What did you think of Draft Day? Have you seen it? Will you be watching the NFL Draft? Let us know in the comments!