I actually laughed out loud at the ending of “Draft Day” where an NFL team does “the right thing” and drafts for honor and integrity. Ha! Now that is fantasy football. The real 2015 draft of the Nothing Football League (oops, the National Football League) just happened and you see that the No. 1 pick is a complete dirtbag and so goes the accompanying millions of dollars. I will note that he played for my university’s rival and I’m not much enamored of the school’s team or its latest “star.” Well, going back to films, “Draft Day” is proof positive that you have to suspend your disbelief when watching a movie. It’s actually a good film with a couple of outstanding performances.
(2014; 110 minutes; rated R; directed by Ivan Reitman and starring Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary and Frank Langella)
FOOTBALL HERE IS A FANTASY, BUT ACTORS DO WELL
I haven’t reviewed many newer films on this blog, as I have concentrated on some older favorites. But today I’m look at “Draft Day” from 2014. I watched it recently on HBO just out of curiosity, since the real Draft Day was about to be inflicted on the country. What I found was an actually solid performance, if not one that’s somewhat outstanding, from Kevin Coster. I also found good work from the supporting cast that ensures that the film holds up.
Oh, forget about the football stuff. Teams just don’t do the things shown in the film, but the acting is another thing. Costner commands your attention in each of his scenes and he is a powerful force moving from one thing to another in that most hectic day of a pro football general manager’s life. “Draft Day” is for the most part intelligent, well-paced and handled exceptionally well by director Ivan Reitman, who’s more known in a producer role but who has excellent credentials in the director’s chair from “Meatballs” (click here for my review) to “Stripes” to “Ghost Busters” to “Dave” (click here for my review).
In “Draft Day,” Costner plays Cleveland Browns general manager “Sonny Weaver Jr.” and he’s starting the biggest day of his year with a whole lot of baggage: his secret girlfriend at the office is pregnant, his father (whom he fired the year before) has just died, his mom is ticked that he missed the reading of the will and he needs to make the correct decisions to keep his job. Plus, his job is going to play itself out on national television. Whew. That’s a tall order, even for a movie star.
Costner goes from initially looking at the top-shelf star and trading away future draft picks and thereby looking away from a couple of players who can really help the team. He then struggles through the day with calamities of dealing with a quarterback who trashes his office; quickie closed-door emotional encounters with the girlfriend (no, not THAT kind); butting heads with his just-widowed mother; a staff coming to look like bystanders at a major crash scene; and all the while dealing with a nebbish intern.
As for the three players at the center of Costner’s world, they just don’t get enough time to develop – especially Chadwick Boseman as “Vontae Mack.” Their stories are compelling and each of the actors (one is pro football player Arian Foster, who, true to life and unlike his character in the movie, has admitted to accepting money to play college ball at the University of Tennessee) do a solid job.
Here’s a rundown of some of the principal cast:
- A two-time Oscar winner for “Dances with Wolves,” Costner navigates from scene to scene as if “Draft Day” was a reality show filmed sequentially of his life. He shifts his character’s emotional and professional gears seamlessly and does a good job in the management of being the total focus of the film. I enjoyed him more in the little-remembered “American Flyers” (click here for my review) and he is in the sports-movie hall of fame with “Bull Durham” and “Field of Dreams” (I don’t count “Tin Cup” for golf only because the film was defeated by flaws in what should have been a memorable movie).
- Golden Globe winner for TV’s “Alias,” Jennifer Garner plays “Ali Parker” and is Costner’s secret girlfriend (at least until the last reel of the film). She’s solid, but there’s not enough of her character to let her make something of it. In any case, she does a good job here and doesn’t fumble the role (pun intended). She has been in “Juno” and the subtle but effective comedy “The Invention of Lying.”
- Nominated for Golden Globes for HBO movie “Recount” and TV’s “Rescue Me,” Leary plays “Coach Vince Penn,” who was hired after Costner fired his father (for humanitarian reasons as you’ll find out). Leary does his usual brash character here, but takes most of the edge off his trademark sarcasm and sarcastic tone. It’s a much better effort and role for Leary than his turn in “Demolition Man” (click here for my review) but has nowhere near the energy in the absolutely terrific “Recount” (click here for my review).
- Oscar nominee (for “Frost/Nixon”) Frank Langella reunites with Reitman after 1993’s “Dave.” He plays team owner “Anthony Molina,” who wants Costner to draft the big-name quarterback in the draft and thereby reap both the player and the marketing rewards. Langella does the angry owner routine after his wonderful dream is thwarted by Costner, but he doesn’t do much else with the role. In other hands it would have been a stereotype character, but Langella is just too good to have let that happen.
- Griffin Newman plays “Rick the Intern,” who is tossed into the mess on his first day as an assistant to Costner. Newman does a good job conveying the clueless demeanor of a nebbish, unsure intern and you couldn’t tell from his confident work here as a person lacking confidence that the actor already has 37 acting credits in an 11-year career in film and television. Two of his credits are two strangely-named films from 2014: “Buttwhistle” and “Free the Nipple.”
- Patrick St. Esprit plays Seattle Seahawks’ general manager “Tom Michaels” and he manages to convey his character of a football executive as well as (and some ways better than) Costner does his. St. Esprit is smooth and loses much of his confidence as the movie moves forward. It’s a good role and you’ll keep thinking, “I recognize this guy, but what’s his name?” He has been in a variety of genres from TV to even action such as “Smokin’ Aces.”
- Chi McBride plays the Seahawks’ executive “Walt Gordon” and he is initially pleased with having out-foxed Costner along with St. Esprit. I’ll be blunt: McBride isn’t very good here and has tried this “I’m a tough executive” stuff before on TV’s “House M.D.” Here he’s nothing and in “House” he was buffoonish in an irritating and incompetent way. He’s also been in … ah, I don’t care and you shouldn’t either.
- Completely wasted here in a mercifully small part is Rosanna Arquette as Costner’s former wife “Angie.” There’s simply nothing to the role and she does nothing with the nothing other than cash a check for no work. I don’t really care what else she’s been in, either.
- Finally on the cast, I have to say that I like Terry Crews in just about anything. He has a small role here as “Earl Jennings,” who is the father of one of the potential draftee players with ties to the Cleveland Browns organization. Unlike his hilarious, over-the-top sexual effort in “White Chicks” (click here for my review), Crews is solid as well as stolid as the father here. He shows his versatility in Adam Sandler efforts as well as “Bridesmaids” and “The Expendables” franchise.
Oh, yes. There is good work by a veteran and somewhat rookie actor: Oscar winner (and three other nominations) Ellen Burstyn plays Costner’s mother and Sean Combs plays the potential top draft pick’s agent. Both jump out at you in these small roles and while you expect it from Burstyn, I was surprised and impressed by Combs (you know, P. Diddy among other names) and his impressive but brief resume of 15 acting credits including TV and movies from drama in “Monster’s Ball” to comedy with “Get Him to the Greek.”
The worst scene of “Draft Day” is when family, coaches and players file out on the practice field to spread the ashes of Costner’s father. The effort is so lackadaisical that it is a wonder it made the final cut of the film. Reitman should have known better and it would have saved a sizeable portion of his supporting cast from having to watch the scene after stumbling their way through it.
Most of the sports commentators here for ESPN play themselves, but that’s nothing new since they’re all entertainers first and are sports journalists in name only. I won’t make negative comments about them and there are no positive ones to note.
As I’ve already noted, Costner wins and is the biggest winner. All his trades play out correctly and the good guys score a major victory. What a fantasy!
BTW … the “R” rating is for strong language but I’m sure you’ll be much more offended by what you see on reality TV without any rating than “Draft Day.” It simply doesn’t deserve that rating.
“Draft Day” didn’t win many hearts with ticket buyers, as it made only $28.8 million for 95th place for 2014 films, according to Box Office Mojo. Since “Draft Day” is the most current film I’ve reviewed, I don’t have any other 2014 films to list from my blog. The No. 1 film of the year was “American Sniper” with $349 million, while the No. 2 film was “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1” with $337.1 million.
Assorted cast and film notes (via IMDb.com):
- I’ve already noted that St. Esprit isn’t a household name as an actor, but he has had a prolific career of 100 roles starting with credits in 1983 for episode each in the waning days of the original “Love Boat” on TV (click here for my review of the series) and “Police Squad!” Thanks, Patrick. Both are under-appreciated in the world of entertainment.
- I don’t see much interesting trivia about “Draft Day” on the IMDb.com trivia page, but you can click here to read it.
- Directly from IMDb.com: “The trick used by the Washington Redskins of taping a $100 bill to the back of the play book seems inspired by an anecdote of JaMarcus Russell. His coaches in Oakland did not believe he was watching game film and once purposely sent him home with blank DVDs to watch. He returned claiming he watched the video and liked the game plan, obviously lying. There was a similar story in the 80s with Randall Cunningham.”
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