To be honest, I’ve been looking forward to Draft Day for a few years now. In 2012, The Black List, an annual list consisted of the best un-produced screenplays in Hollywood, chose the script for this film as the best of that year. When it was chosen, it was already in turnaround over at Lionsgate with Ivan Reitman to direct and Kevin Costner to star. What really made me excited about this film is that it was described as a Moneyball for the NFL. If you know me, I love Moneyball, and it’s not only one of the very best films produced in this decade, but it’s the best sports film produced in the last 20-30 years, ironically around the time when Kevin Costner was making sports films such as Field of Dreams and Bull Durham. Ivan Reitman has been hit or miss as of recently with several of his films, but I was hoping that he would turned a corner and found a unique way to tell this story. Well, I just saw the film, and I can know tell you if I’m right. Let’s dive in.
Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr, the General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, and if you’re a fan of football, you know that the Browns suck. They always have, and (hopefully not) always will. Sonny is a pretty stressed out guy today, as he has a lot on his plate, most notably the NFL Draft. He makes a deal with the folks over at the Seattle Seahawks for the first pick in the draft, and the rest of the film deals with Sonny all day trying to figure out who to draft. A quarterback from The University of Wisconsin who has a questionable past played by Josh Pence (he’s best known as the body double for Armie Hammer in The Social Network). A linebacker from Ohio State played by Chadwick Boseman, and a running back named Ray Jennings played by real life Houston Texans running back Arian Foster.
In case you’re wondering the names of the writers, they are Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph. Mr. Joseph is best known as a playwright who wrote a couple of episodes of the television series Nurse Jackie before writing his first feature film with Mr. Rothman. And while I knew some of the reviews going in were a bit tepid, I still held my head high hoping that this would be good. I say this because I love sports, and I love football. Granted, I’m horrible at playing the sport (If it were the exact opposite I’d be on the gridiron right now throwing touchdowns and getting the ladies, but we all know that’s not the case) but I’ve always enjoyed watching the game, either professional or college football. So I unfortunately have to say that Draft Day is not worth your time. Let’s get to the main problems of the film, and the most obvious are the subplots. The biggest one being the love story between Costner’s character and Jennifer Garner’s. Garner plays an accountant for the Browns, and she’s fine in the role, but there is an age gap between both actors. Costner is pushing 60, and Garner is 41. I think Garner did her job in the role, but I felt that they could have used a bit of an older actress for that role, or just abandon that subplot altogether, because it distracted from the action in the film.
And that’s another quip I have with the film. The movie does go for that Moneyball route where the it’s about the behind the scenes, the offices of the NFL with back door deals and so on, but the film feels like the 99 cent version of that film. The dialogue in Draft Day feels really stilted and cheesy at times, and it feels that the actors are really restrained from what this script could be. A good friend of mine was telling me about the film a day before I saw it, and he told me that the film should have been a hard-R rated film for language. I agree, because the s**t-slinging in the film feels awfully PG and not very edgy or funny. A lot of these jokes fall flat on their face because it’s so tame. Maybe it’s because the NFL was involved and they wanted a film that families could see and nothing to risqué or edgy. I would have liked to have seen Costner drop some F-bombs every couple of seconds in this film, because it would have made this story a bit more grounded and interesting if the creative people were given more free rein by the studio or the NFL or somebody.
And because of that reason, and the poor writing and unfortunately poor direction by Reitman makes a lot of the moments in the film that could be really unique feels boring and tedious. The idea of a film taking place on Draft Day is a really great idea, and if you had an Aaron Sorkin write the film like he did with Moneyball, and you have a director that knows the material, this could have been something special. This friend made a great point that Ivan’s son, Jason Reitman should have made this film. I think that Reitman could have written and directed a film similar to his directorial debut Thank You For Smoking, where the film is a satirized take on this one day. It would still have its serious moments, but Jason Reitman can write dialogue and fascinating characters, and these writers and unfortunately Ivan Reitman can’t. It pains me that I didn’t like this film because I wanted to so much to enjoy this film, but as a football fan, it’s not a complete slap in the face, but it’s close to that.
However, there is a bit of a silver lining to this film, but nothing enough to save the film. Costner is great in the film, as he always is, and there are some pretty good supporting turns from Dennis Leary as the head coach of the Browns, Frank Langella as the Browns’ owner, and Ellen Burstyn makes an appearance as Costner’s mother. And while the first two acts of the film are pretty mediocre, the third act is when the film decides to finally wake up from the sleep walk it’s had for the past hour. This is when the draft begins, and the Browns and the other teams are on the clock. It’s an electrifying third act, and this should have been the film that I was watching the entire time. I was sitting in my seat just screaming in my head what I just told you. It could have made for some pretty exciting and unique cinema for the spring, but unfortunately it’s just the last 30 minutes of the film, while everything behind it is heavily saturated and bland.
So while those last 30 minutes are pretty damn good, Draft Day is a mess. I really wanted to like and enjoy this film, but the film takes the safe route, and it’s a really disappointing and forgettable film-going experience that could have been something really special, like Moneyball. If you really want to see the film, don’t bother at the theater, if it shows up on HBO or whatever in the near future, I guess you could watch it then, but you’d be wasting your time to be honest. Another thing I forgot to mention as a memorable part of the film is Chadwick Boseman’s performance. He was one of the best parts of the film, and I hope that this guy could become one of the great actors of our time. Last year he had a terrific debut performance as Jackie Robinson in 42, and later this year he will play James Brown in the upcoming biopic Get on Up, which is one of my most anticipated for the summer. Hopefully that film will be a lot better than the film I saw today.