There are plenty of sports movies out there. There are also plenty of “behind-the-scenes” sports movies out there. Moneyball is the one I think of the most recently that was basically a movie about people talking about baseball, rather than a movie about baseball.
Draft Day is a movie about people talking about football, and a bit of a character study hidden inside that premise (just a little bit though, it's not nearly the Oscar movie that Moneyball was). While that sounds a little boring, let me assure you, it’s far more entertaining than you think.
Sonny Weaver Jr. is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. He lost his father a week ago, which seemed to take place sometime after Sonny had fired his father as coach of the Browns. Draft Day takes place on draft day itself, which, in case you are not familiar, is the day when the NFL teams get to make their picks of the college players, and draft them up to the NFL. There are all kinds of details involved in that process: what number pick each team has, how much research they have done into what players they want, and the quality of the college players available. I will not pretend to know much about that process. But, let me see if I can sum it up like this – Each team in the NFL gets picks, and there are several rounds of picking. So a team has a pick to make in each round – and they can trade those between themselves. College players are judged by what round they are expected to go, and what number in that round. That usually reflects the type of player they were, but not necessarily the player they will become. For example, Aaron Rodgers was the 24th pick and went in the 1st round, Donald Driver was the 213th pick in the 7th round, Clay Matthews was the 26th pick and went in the 1st round, Eddie Lacy was the 61st pick and went in the 2nd round, Randall Cobb was the 64th pick in the 2nd round, Jordy Nelson was the 36th pick in the 2nd round, and John Kuhn was undrafted (yes, those are all Packers – I’m unashamedly biased).
Sonny wakes up that morning, and we quickly find out that his girlfriend told him the night before that she is pregnant. He seems unsure how to handle that, and we see him write himself a note – as she leaves for ‘her place’ before work – she’s the salary cap manager for the Browns. On his way to work, Sonny gets a couple of phone calls – one from college defensive player Vontae Mack, who badly wants to play for the Browns, and is concerned about his place in the draft – one from Ray Jennings, who was a promising college player who just got in a fight, but wants to be a Brown because his father was – and a call from the GM of the Seattle Seahawks, who have the number one pick (which should be Bo Callahan, a quarterback from the University of Wisconsin). Seattle has been doing some thinking – and they trade the number one pick to Sonny, but in return, he has to give them his next three first round picks over the next few years. After that very confusing drive to work, he arrives at the office and has to deal with his secretly pregnant girlfriend/co-worker, the angry team owner, the team quarterback who gets upset when he thinks Sonny is picking a new quarterback, the new coach in from Dallas, his mother and ex-wife and his father’s ashes, various other GMs, and a brand new intern. Over the course of the day, Sonny makes a decision about what to do with his number one pick, and how to build the team he wants to take forward. Also – the payoff of the note he wrote himself at the beginning of the day is pretty wonderful.
This movie is directed by comedy genius Ivan Reitman, who is known for directing some pretty fantastic comedies over the years: Meatballs (1979), Stripes (1981), Ghostbusters (1984), Legal Eagles (1986), Twins (1988), Ghostbusters II (1989), Kindergarten Cop (1990), Dave (1993), Junior (1994), Evolution (2001), My Super Ex-Girlfriend (2006), No Strings Attached (2011). In that list, chances are there’s at least one movie you love and several you like. I will be adding this to the list of his movies that I loved. It plays out beautifully over the course of one day, and the tense-ness of the day makes for great comedy and drama. It’s tough to make a movie that’s all dialogue scenes interesting, but Reitman makes some fascinating choices with split-screens and movement. It keeps the sequences where people are just sitting around talking still visually interesting. I also really love the sweeping shots of the various cities as they are introduced, and then the shots of the stadiums. I also really enjoyed the cast.
- Kevin Costner plays Sonny – and it really is his movie. He has a strong supporting cast, but really the action revolves around Sonny as he makes his way through this very difficult day. Costner has been really good in many different things, and his quiet, understated personality plays perfectly in this as Sonny keeps trying to please everyone else around him, but finally decides to stay true to himself. It’s also difficult to go with Costner in a football movie, since really he’s best in baseball movies.
- Jennifer Garner plays Ali, the salary-cap manager that Sonny’s been having a secret relationship with. Garner is great when she stays inside her box – which this role fits perfectly in. She’s uptight and a little difficult, and you have to try not to think about the age difference between them. It’s really only 15 years, she looks younger than she is, and he looks older.
- Frank Langella plays the over-the-top owner of the Browns. He gets to fly about on his private plane and cause trouble and get angry. Incidentally, I’m pretty sure he played this same role in the movie Eddie with Whoopi Goldberg, back when they were dating. You heard me right.
- Denis Leary plays Denis Leary as the newly hired coach of the Browns. They brought him in from the Dallas Cowboys, and he spends a great deal of time telling people how great he is, and the rest of his time arguing with Sonny, until (spoiler alert) he finally sees what Sonny’s ultimate plan is, and supports him.
- Ellen Burstyn plays Sonny’s mother, Barb, and she gets a couple of feisty scenes with Costner. It’s a little much to throw her storyline in on top of everything else he’s dealing with, but that’s exactly the point.
- Tom Welling plays Cleveland’s returning quarterback Brian Drew. He went down in the 5th game of the previous season, but has been working hard during the off season to win his place back and convince the team management to stick with him. So, naturally, when he gets wind that they might be picking Bo Callahan, he gets angry. Remember that one season of Smallville where Clark played quarterback? Basically, this is more of that – in a good way.
- Chadwick Boseman, who did a great job playing Jackie Robinson in 42 plays Vontae Mack. He is perfect at giving you exactly what you expect on the surface, and then as the movie progresses, revealing more and more detailed layers of Vontae’s character.
- Real-Life Houstan Texan player Arian Foster plays Ray Jennings, the promising young player who has to deal with the repercussions of getting into a fight just before draft day. He has just a couple of scenes, but does really well with conveying the genuine desire to become a player. It was also fun to see Terry Crews completely toned down as his father, a former Browns player.
- Josh Pence plays Bo Callahan as the stereotypical pampered college football quarterback success. His job is mainly to sit there quietly and look pretty.
- Sean Combs (yes, that Sean Combs) plays Bo Callahan’s super agent, and for the entire front half of the movie, just seems to be himself. I did really love the scene he gets when (spoiler alert), Bo does not go as the number one pick, and has a bit of a tantrum. The agent immediately goes after him, and Combs gets a pretty good scene to lecture him to get back in there and hide his disappointment, because teams won’t want a quarterback who panics.
- Patrick St. Esprit plays the hard-nosed pancake-eating GM of the Seattle Seahawks who throws the first monkeywrench into Sonny’s day. He’s determined and manipulative, but also has some pretty humorous parts. It was fun to see Chi McBride with him in the majority of his scenes.
- David Ramsey (from Arrow), Timothy Simons, and Wade Williams play some of the Browns behind the scenes men, helping do the research and on the players. They are small parts, but they work well together, and they get some funny moments. Also - Ramsey is only one reason you should be watching Arrow...there are others, but he's probably enough:
- Griffin Newman plays the brand new intern Rick, who goes from having the worst day to the best day pretty quickly. He really exists only as comedy relief, but he does a great job at it.
- Wallace Langham plays another GM, Sam Elliott briefly shows up as the coach of Wisconsin, Kevin Dunn briefly plays the Browns representative at the draft itself, Rosanna Arquette plays the ex-wife, and Roger Goodell plays himself.
I am not sure how I would characterize the marketing of this movie, but it’s not doing a great job. It’s gotten some harsh reviews, but I really loved it. It’s simple, it’s quick, and it’s very enjoyable. It’s not really about football, it’s about the people working in football. It’s funny and touching, and I think you’ll like it.
8 out of 10. Gained points for Tom Welling – really I could stop there - was I the only one who wanted his confrontation with Costner to end with him telling Costner he was a terrible Jonathan Kent? I am? That's fine. Lost points for the other GMs preying on Sonny during his moment of weakness (“fleece him.”) Gained points for David Ramsey. Gained points for the cool split-screens, gained points for the tense moments during the draft itself, are those last minute trades for real? Yikes.
Bonus Video 1: Eddie – a fun piece of nonsense with Whoopi Goldberg and Frank Langella
Bonus Video 2: Field of Dreams – have you not seen this? Have you forgotten about this? Go see it again.
Bonus Video 3: Smallville football fun - this is over a decade old now.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews: