DRAFT DAY (letterboxd review)
This review reportedly contains spoilers.
This film might technically and narratively deserve a three or three and a half star review, but I'm giving it four because tonally it was just what I hoped it would deliver and what I needed right now (light and airy, akin to JERRY MAGUIRE, compared to the heavier, darker dramatic works I tend to gravitate towards) and because Kevin Costner has always had a way of assuaging the cynic in me.
DANCES WITH WOLVES, BULL DURHAM, FIELD OF DREAMS... these are seminal films from my childhood, cherished works really (especially in the case of Wolves and Durham), and I have always fancied myself a Costner apologist (yes, there was a time when such a term was necessary, after the floggings he received post-ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES, WATERWORLD, and THE POSTMAN — all arguably misunderstood films, if acknowledged misfires). A PERFECT WORLD is an all-time favorite of mine (and Eastwood's second best film after THE UNFORGIVEN, in my book), JFK is a masterpiece, NO WAY OUT is a lynchpin 80's thriller, OPEN RANGE is an extremely underrated and classical western... I could go on and on, at which point I risk turning this into a review and retrospective of Costner's career as opposed to a review of DRAFT DAY.
But Costner's naturalism and pedigree as the likable everyman in sports films is relevant and helps carry the movie. Here, as Cleveland Browns' General manager Sonny Weaver, he is less of a cad and rogue than say Roy "TIN CUP" McAvoy or THE UPSIDE OF ANGER's Denny Davies, but his easy charm and contained, less demonstrative style suit the role like an old, comfortable slipper. Though emotional subplots do play in the film (centering around a pregnancy with salary-cap manager Jennifer Garner and the death of his father), it's mostly an examination of a "scene" — and I happen to be a big fan of films that explore niche scenes. The scene in this case is, of course, the hours leading up to and during the NFL draft.
For sports fans (myself being one, more "fan" than "fanatic," to be sure), some of the proceedings may not ring true — never could I imagine a real-world scenario in which this series of unlikely and reality-pushing trades is pulled off. But again, Costner gets me to buy in, and we realize the film is not meant to be so much a documentation of the NFL Draft but a thematic story about taking the reigns, defining moments, stepping out of the shadow of predecessors and staking a claim by way of planting your flag. Throughout the film lines are drawn in the sand by everyone from Sonny's boss and owner of the Browns (the always welcome Frank Langella), to Sonny's coach (expertly cast Dennis Leary), to his own mother (living legend Ellen Burstyn) and his fellow general managers as he wheels and deals under the pressure of a ticking clock.
But through it all, Sonny finds a way to not only stay true to his heart and draft the player he wanted all along (a heart and soul middle linebacker played by rising star Chadwick Boseman), but to also make his coach happy by pulling off another trade for a coveted running back, and his owner by "making a splash," and recovering the future draft picks he gave up in the first place in order to move to the number one spot.
Again, this film ain't reinventing the wheel, but it is a dependable, comforting wheel that moves at a brisk pace (thanks in part to director Ivan Reitman's use of split screen and wipes and a breezy, Black List-topping script by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph) and delivers a good amount of heart and warmth. Don't go into this film expecting a cynical, realistic treatise of the NFL (for that, see Oliver Stone's ANY GIVEN SUNDAY) — but if you're in the mood for a feel-good sports movie that takes place away from the field and is tonally centered between JERRY MAGUIRE and MONEYBALL, look no further.
SEE IT — non-sports fans might enjoy it even more than sports fans. My brother, who could give two shits about sports, also enjoyed this inside glimpse of a world he would normally never see.
PS - have I made it abundantly clear that I have always, and will always, love(d) Kevin Costner? Again, the film itself might play a star lower for you, but for this viewer, some Costner-in-his-wheelhouse gives it an automatic bump.