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Film Review: Costner and Reitman keep 'Draft Day' from fumbling

April 11, 2014|By Andy Klein
  • Denis Leary, Frank Langella and Kevin Costner star in "Draft Day."
Denis Leary, Frank Langella and Kevin Costner star in… (Courtesy of Summit…)

The people behind “Draft Day” like to say that it's not “about football”; it's about “characters” or “a man under pressure” or something like that. This is a blatant attempt to appeal to filmgoers who don't follow the game or don't even care about it. I'm among that demographic, so I can attest that their claim is valid. I don't even pay much attention to the Super Bowl, and even less to the draft — yeah, I know, that makes me practically un-American — and yet I was fully engaged. A few aspects of the draft go unexplained, but it's not hard to figure them out through context.

“Draft Day” is about football the business more than football the game. The story takes place off-season, and the only actual playing we see is in a few brief historical clips. Most of the film transpires during the hours leading up to the first day of the annual draft. (We occasionally see a ticker counting down the remaining time.)

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Kevin Costner — who has been in more sports movies than any other contemporary actor — plays Sonny Weaver Jr., fictional general manager of the Cleveland Browns. In the hiring/firing hierarchy, Sonny is sandwiched between owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) and Coach Penn (Denis Leary), each pushing him in their own direction. In addition, Sonny is the son of the team's beloved former coach, who has recently died; Sonny carries the weight of having fired his own dad and replaced him with Penn, a fact no one will ever let him forget.

In the final run-up to the draft (and into the first round), Sonny and his counterparts around the country play a metaphorical high-stakes poker game — trading their positions in the draft, cutting deals, and bluffing each other. But, unlike poker, the managers have to deal not only with the other managers, but with popular opinion and leaks in both old-fashioned and social media. Add to that the sensitive egos of star players and various pressures from his girlfriend (Jennifer Garner), his mother (Ellen Burstyn), and his ex-wife (Rosanna Arquette), and Sonny is in a really tough spot.

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