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Draft Day

D: Ivan Reitman / 110m

Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Ellen Burstyn, Chadwick Boseman, Sean Combs, Josh Pence, Terry Crews, Arian Foster, Patrick St Esprit, Chi McBride, Tom Welling, Pat Healy, Rosanna Arquette, Sam Elliott

It’s Draft Day in the NFL and the number one pick is quarterback Bo Callahan (Pence). Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr (Costner) is given the chance to have him as his first choice in the pick but he declines.  Urged by club owner Anthony Molina (Langella) to make “a splash”, Weaver changes his mind and does a deal with the Seattle Seahawks for Callahan that allows them first pick in the draft.  As the news leaks out that the deal has been done, it earns the animosity of the Browns’ Coach Penn (Leary), and defensive player Vontae Mack (Boseman).  Penn wants another player, Ray Jennings (Foster) to be picked in order to complement their existing quarterback Brian Drew (Welling).  Mack wants to play for the Browns, and he tells Weaver that picking Callahan is a bad move.

As the day carries on, Weaver is forced to confront the notion that Callahan isn’t all he’s made out to be, and that he has serious character flaws that could well cause him to be a liability down the line.  Weaver also has to contend with the news that his girlfriend, Ali (Garner), who works for the Browns as a lawyer, is pregnant.  And as if that wasn’t enough, his mother (Burstyn) arrives at the ground to scatter his father’s ashes on the training field, something that Weaver is resistant of as he had to fire his father as coach the year before.

At the first pick, Weaver surprises everybody with his first choice, and this leads to moves and counter-moves involving the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Seattle Seahawks, moves that will determine whether or not Weaver continues as the Browns’ general manager.

Draft Day - scene

An unabashed sports movie that plays out like a good old-fashioned drama laced with broad, comic elements, Draft Day is the kind of movie you can watch and just let wash over you.  It’s professionally done, with a likeable cast, an enjoyable set up, a good-natured feel to it, and easy-going direction thanks to Reitman, back on form after the regrettable No Strings Attached (2011).  It’s an easy movie to like, then, and the kind of movie that has no other agenda than to entertain its audience for a couple of hours.  In short, it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t come around very often.

The main reason Draft Day is so engaging and fun to watch is due to its performances.  Costner could probably play Sonny Weaver Jr in his sleep, and while the actor brings his usual gravitas to the dramatic scenes, he’s equally appealing (if not more so) when the script throws a comedic curve ball at him.  It’s an assured performance, Costner’s experience and acting chops perfectly suited to the role; he’s back in the kind of everyman hero role he made his own in the late Eighties/early Nineties, but older and wiser, and with less to prove (especially as an actor).  It’s good to see him back doing the kind of role he does best: being the calm at the centre of the storm, the rock that everyone can cling on to and know that they’ll be safe.  For the audience, it’s like seeing an old friend after a number of years have gone by, and picking up right where you left off.

In support, Garner is patient and compassionate, while Leary is ill-tempered and aggressive.  Both actors have roles that play to their strengths, and it’s good to see them sparring so happily with Costner, and with each other.  They may be playing familiar roles, with little variation, but it makes the audience feel comfortable; it’s reassuring in such a way that it puts a smile on the viewer’s face without them realising it.  As the Browns’ owner, Langella is appropriately supercilious, while Boseman, Pence, Welling and Foster offer various approaches to the ways in which young American men can view football as not just a game, but what gives their lives meaning.

Under Reitman’s relaxed though confident direction, the cast keep the momentum going, the movie’s rhythm never allowed to flag or stutter or the audience to lose interest.  If you’re not a fan of American Football, then some of the dialogue is going to seem like it’s spoken in a foreign language, but the script by Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman takes pains to explain the various ins and outs of the game itself and the behind the scenes machinations that make up most of what goes on on Draft Day.  It doesn’t succeed entirely, but what gets lost in the “translation” won’t impede anyone’s enjoyment of the movie.  And if it all seems a little too convoluted for its own good, then that’s just the way the NFL has set things up (so go figure).

The various subplots and storylines are all resolved with varying degrees of neatness, though this doesn’t detract from the enjoyment the movie provides, and the approach to the material – albeit lightweight and occasionally superficial – fits with the overall intended effect.  Brightly filmed, and with a serendipitous score courtesy of the ever-reliable John Debney, Draft Day succeeds in bringing back some much needed entertainment in amongst all the horror remakes, scuzzy crime thrillers and high octane superhero movies.

Rating: 8/10 – what it lacks in depth, Draft Day more than makes up for in likability; a return to old-fashioned story telling and all the better for it.