In the Dark with Melanie Dishman: 'Draft Day,' a touchdown
In short, this is a touchdown with Kevin Costner doing what he does best — a sports movie. Whether it’s “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” or “The Love of the Game,” this is a genre that Costner owns.
The use of actual NFL teams for this movie was smart. It adds realism, and even I know about the famous Dog Pound and the winless Cleveland Browns. Costner plays Sonny Weaver, the beleaguered general manager of this team, as the movie plays out on the most important day of the year — the annual draft day for the NFL.
Weaver, also burdened with some personal issues, is under the gun from Cleveland’s owner (played by Frank Langella) and the new coach (played by Denis Leary) to “create a splash” by going big on their first-round draft pick. What follows for most of the film is a detailed, suspenseful account of all the back room negotiating that goes on between team managers leading up to the prime-time draft picks.
It’s quickly established that the hottest draft pick is Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), a University of Wisconsin quarterback who is also the Heisman Trophy recipient. But Sonny, burdened with a myriad of distractions he doesn’t need today, has his doubts even as he trades away a lot of his draft power to get a shot at Callahan in the first round.
Ivan Reitman, the director, sets a nice pace for the movie as it jumps from team to team and back to New York where preparations for the televised event are be finalized. An onscreen clock notes the time as the day ticks down. For the many telephone crosstalk scenes, Reitman uses some creative camera work with split screens that involve the actors actually crossing over one another in and out of each other’s shots. Overall, in what could have been a fairly static movie that has most of the action taking place in phone conversations, Reitman manages to create movement with on-field football action and vintage footage of real NFL games.
Costner shares most of his screen time with Jennifer Garner, who plays Ali, the financial person for the team and his love interest. Mixed in with the actors are some true sports stars including the most famous Cleveland Brown, Jim Brown himself. Also popping up in a small role as Bo’s agent is Sean Combs, also known as P. Diddy.
The standout is Chadwick Boseman as Vontae Mack, one of the day’s hopeful college players who desperately wants a shot at the big league even though he’s way down on the list. After “42,” and the upcoming biopic with Bozeman playing the man of soul, James Brown, he’s an actor to watch.
Even if you don’t know how the NFL draft goes, this is an enjoyable movie. As it is, there are scenes that explain how it all works and you will come away probably knowing more than you ever wanted to know about professional football. As the draft begins and the trading and negotiating reaches a fever pitch when the teams go on the clock, the movie really takes on hectic air of anticipation that rises to almost implausible levels that leave you wondering if draft days are really this dramatic.
Sports movies have their place, and when they are executed as nicely as this one is with the only actor who could do the character of Weaver justice, then I’m all in.
Score for “Draft Day.”