Director: Ivan Reitman
Starring: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary
Let me start out by saying that I love football. I was born a Broncos fan, my dad having grown up in Colorado, and my first year of life was John Elway's rookie year in the league. So of course he was my hero, I followed him through his ups & downs, eventually winning two Super Bowls right alongside him, or so it seemed to me. But it isn't just Denver that I follow; I love the game. As a kid I had a Franco Harris jersey, later a Brett Favre, of course a Tebow & a Manning. I watch every game I can, any team, doesn't matter, study the depth charts, play fantasy football, decorate my basement blue & orange. And as an Ohioan, a lot of the NFL games that are on are Browns and Bengals. My friends are all AFC North fans, I know all about the Dawg Pound, Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis, Art Modell; I get Ohio football. So Draft Day is basically the perfect movie for me, a film about the NFL, Cleveland, the Draft, behind the scenes, the salary cap, building a team; everything I love about the game. It's just too bad Kevin Costner is in it.
The story of the movie is a look ahead one month in time to the 2014 NFL Draft. Of course, it's a fictional look with made-up names, including Cleveland Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr. His team is going through some drastic changes. His father, having been fired & then dieing, is no longer the head coach. The new coach is a hot head from Dallas who wants to run the team his way. The franchise QB has weak knees, the team had a rough season, and Sonny is on the verge of being fired if he doesn't make a splash in this year's Draft that will hopefully lead to a great season for the Brownies. So he's got to make the right pick or else, putting even more pressure on the choices every GM has on draft day; trades, deals, draft boards, personalities. And as if the job isn't tough enough, Sonny's personal life isn't going so well. His father just died, his girlfriend is pregnant, his mom needs his attention, and the whole city will run him out of town if he picks the wrong player in the first round. Such is the life of an NFL executive, never put into perspective more than on draft day.
First thing's first; let's talk football. The actual NFL was completely on board with this film, making it the ultimate "real life look" behind the curtain. We get to see a somewhat realistic picture of what the GM goes through to build a team, specifically at a very critic point in the season. We get to talk salary cap, draft prospects, game footage, trades between teams, fan pressure, owner pressure, personal life complications, you name it. And the NFL is right there, with team stadiums, Commissioner Roger Goodell, ESPN analysts, real logos, ex-players, even Adrian Foster pretending to be a college running back. For a football fan, this is about as real as it has ever been. The only thing that's intentionally fake about the movie are the current player names; we can only assume that the rest if dramatized but fairly accurate. As a lifelong follower of the game, I appreciated the inside look, the jokes, the history, the excitement behind what is always a great time of year. It got me excited for next month's NFL Draft, a bit of a win/win situation for both the league and the film, working to keep the movie feeling authentic while building buzz for the real thing.
But, and here it comes, you had better be prepared for some terrible acting. Leading the charge was Kevin Costner, someone who would be beat out for most community theatre roles. Every once in a while a part lands in his lap, allowing him to just be himself, not really requiring any talent. This wasn't one of those. His performance was dull, unrealistic, annoying, and I never stopped seeing an actor, never accepted him as Sonny Weaver Jr., GM extraordinaire. Jennifer Garner wasn't much better, but then again I've hated everything she's ever done. She's not really believable as a human, let alone an emotional one who's having a baby. Her portrayal was just short of ridiculous, with zero connection to Costner and not a hint of reality. So how can you make a successful movie starring two actors who can't act? By making it about the most popular sport in America. Genius really, it was bound to be popular no matter what. But I've got to imagine that non-fans aren't really going to love it. It's about the NFL more than anything, with references and humor that people who don't watch the games on Sunday won't get. And I wonder if the Cleveland digs will translate well, if fans outside of Ohio are going to enjoy them as much as we all did in Columbus. However you look at it, this is a movie that requires a lot from audiences; the love of football, some knowledge of the Browns, and the ability to ignore awful acting. Is that you? Then you'll love it. But if not, steer clear.