Kevin Costner is no stranger to the sports movie. He has starred in a number of them over the years including very memorable turns in Field of Dreams, Bull Durham and Tin Cup. Over the last couple of years, his star has once again been in the ascendancy. He has featured in a number of supporting roles in several films that have helped to raise his profile and remind people of the quality actor that he is. In Draft Day, he once again takes the lead in what can best be described as a behind the scenes look at American football.
For Sonny Weaver Jr (Kevin Costner), the clock is quite literally ticking. He is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns and today is draft day, when the football teams get to take their pick of the new talent graduating from college football. The choices they make can make a massive effect on the season ahead and depending how far down the order you are and what you need there will be an element of trading involved. Cleveland has come off of a season where, after an initially starting well, ended up with a losing record due to injuries to crucial players. The pressure is on Sonny to deliver. When he gets the offer of a trade from another general manager for the top pick it looks like a chance for a quick fix and the break he needs. The suspicion that it is not what it seems. To add to his busy day, he has found out that his girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner) is expecting a baby. Ali also works alongside him at the club to make it even more complicated. Add conflict with the team’s owner (Frank Langella), the head coach (Denis Leary) and the fact that his father, who was a Cleveland Browns legend, died the week before the day is not going well. All the while the clock is counting down to the beginning of the draft.
This film falls firmly into the bracket of a movie about a sport rather than a sport movie. It is in the same vein as the 2012 film Moneyball in that the game is the background to the drama rather than the centre. There is no on field action except for some archive segments use to emphasise a particular stretch of dialogue. The film is really a tense drama. It starts slowly with the pregnancy plot strand and interweaves quickly with the main plot surrounding the acquisition of fresh talent. Each element of the plot and the complications are introduced clearly and slowly which allows the audience to get fully involved in the unfolding action. Nothing is rushed and although things are going wrong for Sonny there is never a sense of panic. That is not the way he operates. We get early on that he is a smart guy, but there is an air of desperation around him like he is barely keeping it together.
The film works very well for an audience that is not very interested in American football. I have a passing knowledge of the game and I was easily able to follow the plot and the a lot of the various terms used. If you approach it in the same way as a political, financial or family drama, then you will get the most from the film. The mechanics are common to all types of stories. The writers make it very easy for you to get involved. That’s not to suggest there is nothing for the fans. There are a number of references and cameos from very well-known figures in the game, but if you don’t recognise them (as I didn’t) then it has no impact on the overall enjoyment of the film.
Costner has the most of the screen time and his performance drives the film forward. As he is now a bit older, he is able to convey a convincing air of world-weariness. His understated style lends itself to a character that is slowly being torn apart by the pressure of the unfolding events. It is a reminder of just how good he is as an actor and it is really nice to see him returning to the type of role that he excels in. Given his dominant performance the other actors make slightly less of an impact. Jennifer Garner is a tremendous actor and plays the role of Ali just right. Her performance emphasises the supporting role that Ali is playing in the life of Sonny. She is never over the top and the chemistry between the two feels natural.
A large element of the film involves people talking on the phone. The action is set in several different cities including Cleveland, New York and Seattle so an effective and engaging way of bringing this to the screen had to be found. What the director Ivan Reitman chooses to do was to take advantage of the split screen technique with a twist. When two people are in conversation over the phone the screen splits but then the split shifts to emphasize the person talking and actually informs the plot by emphasising who is the dominant presence on the call. The splits then overlap with one character seemingly moving over into the over side. It lends another edge to the drama and even with multiple use the technique never becomes distracting.
Overall this is a very enjoyable film that will appeal to non fans of American football as well as the converted. It is a slick, wordy and engaging drama with a terrific central performance from Kevin Costner. Recommended.