Draft Day (2014)
Editor’s Notes: Draft Day opens in wide release today, April 11th.
Doing a football film is far from unheard of. Film’s often boil down the sports to their most exciting moments. Every game in a sports film is the equivalent of a month of highlight reels. The mundanity, the commercials, and the perfunctory time-outs are all stripped away, leaving a lean set of crashes and emotions. Enjoying a football film does not require extensive knowledge of the sport itself. So for a film to directly go after the minutia, its eccentricities, the telecommunication heavy field of team development, and a reliance on not only knowledge, but passion for the sport, is either brave or completely boneheaded. Fittingly, that is kind of a great way to describe Draft Day.
The first hour of Draft Day is rough. Right out of the gate it feels less than cinematic. Instead it comes across more as an extended NFL Network special.
One of the most important days in the NFL season happens before a single coin is tossed. On the day of the NFL draft, lives are forever changed, and history begins to be written. For Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner), this day is exceptionally stressful. Not only has he lost his father, but he has just found out that he has a baby on the way. On top of that, as General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, a team barely holding onto relevancy, he must use the day to right a sinking ship. With disagreement coming from all sides, and the very real prospect of losing his job looming, this is proving to be one long and tortured day for Sonny.
This may come as a shocker, as so many film critics are known for their dogged devotion to the intricate workings of sport, but I do not watch a lot of football. My knowledge of football can be lovingly summed up by my copy of NFL Football ’94 Starring Joe Montana that came for free with my Sega Genesis. But, this is a film, it shouldn’t require a devotion to the source for enjoyment. I don’t know how to construct a time machine or the day-to-day activities of the 1950s, but I thoroughly enjoy Back to the Future. For the most part, Draft Day gets this. It utilizes the NFL draft as a tool to tell a story, unfortunately it just takes a while before that story is actually engaging.
The first hour of Draft Day is rough. Right out of the gate it feels less than cinematic. Instead it comes across more as an extended NFL Network special. The exceedingly high polish, and air of the unexceptional, read as generally inauthentic. There is no hiding the structure of the film, and to call the plot formulaic and predictable is a bit of an understatement. The characters are drawn broadly, with thick lines and little nuance. It is all just a bit too simplistic to actually be intriguing. While drafting players assuredly involves the consideration of multiple statistics, Draft Day is most concerned with the human element of it all. This isn’t Moneyball, but rather an assessment of these players as people, so it is misguided when it drops headlong into deep football jargon. Its inclusion is not done with grace, rather it is invasive and displeasing. It speaks to a larger issue of the poor writing and construction of the larger story. The film’s attempt to hide its cards is unfortunate as the audience is fully aware of its hand. In fact, a reveal that comes near the end of the film’s first hour is not only unnecessary, but when thought about more closely, nearly negates all of the events that led up to it. It is as if the film is saying, “Thanks for paying attention, but none of that mattered.”
This isn’t Moneyball, but rather an assessment of these players as people, so it is misguided when it drops headlong into deep football jargon.
Then there is that last 30 minutes, when all of the sudden Draft Day turns into a different film entirely. The atmosphere changes, the story comes alive and starts to pop. Having dragged its feet for more than half of its runtime, it decides to shake off the strictures of its simplicity and tell an actually interesting story. The kineticism breathes fresh air into the film, and it draws you deeper within. The characters are shown to have more personality, with Costner shining especially brightly. His dour appearance is shed, and you see a man that truly enjoys what he does; in this way I am speaking of both the character and the actor. The predictability has run out, all of the requisite beats were hit, and now the fun begins. Even those with no care for sports will not be able to deny the palpable excitement they experience as each pick comes in. Sonny turns the table on all those that were his obstacles, and had the first hour not been so plodding, you’d think it had been his plan all along. The film is reliant on Costner. For the first hour he appears bored and withdrawn, begrudgingly going through the motions. However, once he comes alive so does the film and it is transformed into a piece of cinema that is exciting, stressful, and more than worthwhile.
They say that first impressions are everything, and boy does Draft Day make a bad one. With a mediocre script and a story structure that possesses the predictability of the tides, it is just another piece of cinematic filler. Aesthetically, the film pushes the limits of the split screen. The split screen glides across like an ever moving sliding door wherein the actors intrude on one another, even walking across each other’s eye lines, despite being in completely separate locations. The use is maddeningly ill-advised and used to the point of insufferable disgust, detracting more than it adds. Nevertheless, in the film’s last bit it pulls it together to deliver actual enjoyment. Having tapped its reserves of connect-the-dots plot it forges a path of surprise and emotionality. The actors suddenly become engaged, led mostly by Costner, and what was once little more than an extended NFL commercial transforms into something to care about. Unfortunately, Draft Day begins by digging itself a deep hole of irrelevancy, and although the last bit is thoroughly enjoyable, it isn’t enough to raise the film higher than just ok.
Unfortunately, Draft Day begins by digging itself a deep hole of irrelevancy, and although the last bit is thoroughly enjoyable, it isn’t enough to raise the film higher than just ok.