Draft Day Review: Trouble with the End Zone
Draft Day is a sports movie for people who thought Moneyball was too accessible. I generally love sports movies because the underdog archetype is pretty universal. Draft Day is very in-depth and technical about the machinations of the draft, and that’s fine. This audience deserves an inside baseball (inside football?) drama as much as comic book fans deserve the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But let’s just be honest about who this is for. If they were intending to make a universal drama, they did not. No matter how much they want to say it’s about the characters, it’s totally about sports. There are characters revolving around sports, but it’s all sports.
Kevin Costner plays Sport Sportington, a sportsman who sports sportingly with his sportswoman Sporty Sportette (Jennifer Garner). When the sports sport him, he has to sport the most sporting sports sportly, but when a sport from his sport sports back, man oh man, it jeopardizes the very sport of his sports. Will sports sport to the sport? I could go on but I have a word limit and I don’t want to spoil anything.
Draft Day often sounded like the above paragraph every time grizzled men in suits got heated over important stats. Though I am admittedly not a sports fan, I do know how individual games are played, but that’s not relevant here. I know that there is a draft that happens on a draft day, and Draft Day explains it clearly, if not seamlessly. A die hard sports fan will likely connect to how well Draft Day gets them, like me watching Detention. It might bridge dialogue amongst novices who can feel a little less left out now that they’ve seen draft day dramatized. There’s also the chance it will lose many people completely, but I never give up on a movie and I was rewarded for sticking it out until the end.
Sonny Weaver (Costner) is the manager of the Cleveland Browns, which the movie probably doesn’t have to bother to explain is one of the worst teams in the NFL. The morning of draft day, Sonny trades his number one draft picks for the next three years to get the first choice in this year’s draft. He spends the rest of the day investigating whether Bo Callahan (Josh Pence) is worth the pick, while his coach (Denis Leary) argues against sacrificing future picks, the owner (Frank Langella) puts pressure on Sonny to turn the team around, and the salary cap manager Ali (Garner) weighs in on how much each potential recruit costs. It becomes an effective mystery about what Bo’s secret is.
There is clearly a natural drama in the draft that certainly deserves its own film. I imagine die-hard sports fans have been waiting for this their whole lives. It’s their Cinema Paradiso (I was a projectionist too). It’s just interesting that this is what die-hard sports enthusiasts think is accessible to the rest of us. You can explain the technical with metaphors, you can use fancy overlapping split screens to show the connections between different departments of different teams, you can connect it to the culture of Cleveland, but you’re still asking us to care what athlete becomes rich playing a game for a team in a certain city. I realize this is what I must sound like to normal people when I’m all Scorsese this and Fellini that. The sports fans in the screening audience were audibly wowed. I only thought, “Oh, that was clever.”
Draft Day still has to work very hard to illustrate the paths Sonny must navigate and the factors weighing against him. It does that, and with that knowledge we are equipped to appreciate Sonny’s achievements against the odds. But, Jerry Maguire explained agenting to us without losing the human story.
Sonny faces some pretty contrived distractions on the personal front. Ali is pregnant, but I find it hard to believe she would insist on addressing it on that particular day. They’ve got nine whole months and it’s her job on the line too. Sonny’s family insists that they deal with Sonny Sr.’s will, but no way would Sonny’s mentor want to distract him from the most important day of the season. That’s where I think you feel the script trying to relate the pressures of draft day to us laymen and it feels false. Just focus on the professional issue and trust us to follow along. Those split screens were annoying too. It just became distracting to see a character in another city cross over Sonny’s office in Cleveland. It’s just a gimmick.
Draft Day rewards you in the end but it requires a little more patience than I would recommend the average moviegoer devote to a movie unless it’s already in their wheelhouse. In the end it’s less Moneyball and more Trouble with the Curve. I suppose if Draft Day is a hit we could see NBA Draft Day and Baseball Draft Day, which you know is the one Coster really wants deep in his heart and soul.