Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb taught us that no fighting should occur in the war room. This will always be a great little satirical jab since in political circles the war room is the place where military battles are planned. However, when it comes to sports, particularly professional football, the war room is where general managers around the league sweat out the proceedings of the NFL draft.
Films like Jerry Maguire and Moneyball are sports movies where the inherent action doesn’t occur on a field of play; they are more about the business side of sports. Whereas both Oscar-nominated films took stock in the value of a more hands-on approach to representing clients and the importance of statistics when it came to evaluating talent, respectively, Draft Day is more concerned with the confluence of problems for one general manager in the hours leading up to the NFL draft.
Though a fictional look at what transpires in the back rooms of different franchises around the football league, there is a sense of realism in terms of strategy that occurs among general managers looking to improve or bolster teams for the forthcoming season. The sport of football has grown to such a state that its annual draft, which was once a weekend affair, has now become a three-day event at Radio City Music Hall with prime-time coverage on ESPN. In the months leading up to those three days, teams spend hundreds of hours looking at prospects and strategize in hopes of nabbing a student-athlete that can be the future of a franchise, a solid starter, a compliment player, or a star in the making.
You don’t have to be a football fan to enjoy Draft Day as steps have been taken so the material is watered down for general consumption. The sport, with certain terms like red zone, two minute warning, and YAC (short for Yards After Catch), forgoes inundating the audience with such terminology but it doesn’t mask the NFL insignia one iota.The amount of NFL signage and personalities playing themselves make me think that the league looked over the script and offered notes on what needed to be re-written or taken out all together. Otherwise, it would just be another football movie with fake names for franchises. While the sports drama looks like a two-hour commercial for the NFL – as if it needed any more exposure – it is definitely aiming for certain audiences: die-hard football fans and those who enjoy Kevin Costner doing sports movies.
The good news is that Kevin Costner is at that stage in his career where he no longer has to be a star idol and can instead be a compliment player, much like a potential player prospect. He plays Cleveland Browns GM Sonny Weaver Jr. Now entering his third year of being in the war room the outlook of his future years as GM aren’t very rosy. Sonny’s been told by the team owner, Harvey Molina (Frank Langella), that he needs to make a big splash. Translation: get a franchise player or it may just be your job. This news when weighed against Sonny losing his dad a week prior and learning that his girlfriend and co-worker, Ali (Jennifer Garner), is pregnant, well it’s enough to give one an ulcer. The guy Sonny wants is Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman), a defensive linebacker with a lot of upside. Upside is good but it doesn’t sell tickets, and a city like Cleveland needs a winner. The Ohio berg has been championshipless since 1964. In the fifty years since the Browns were crowned champion the team has experienced the same curse that once affected baseball franchise the Boston Red Sox and continues to haunt the Chicago Cubs.
If perception is reality, it is odd that the team with the number one pick at the start of Draft Day is the Seattle Seahawks, the team that recently won the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos. However, here the team is looking to move the pick, even though they are in need of a quarterback and the can’t-miss prospect in the draft is Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), a QB from Wisconsin. They offer Sonny the pick in exchange for three consecutive #1 picks. To die-hard NFL fans such a draft trade is asinine. You don’t burn picks no matter how sure of a sure thing a #1 draft pick is. (In NFL reality, the New Orleans Saints learned this the hard way in 1999 when they traded away eight draft picks to the Washington Redskins to get Texas Longhorns’ running back, Ricky Williams.)
The decision to move up in the draft at the expensive of discarding the future doesn’t jive with the Browns’ head coach, Vince Penn(Denis Leary), and now Sonny ruminates over the remaining eight hours before the draft if the deal was the right move and weighs the possibility if a silver lining exists in his GM playbook.
Costner is perfect in his role as GM as his taciturn emotions are similar expressions we’re likely to see with most general managers. GMs by their very nature are driven individuals with a willingness to take risks. Which is why there is an interconnectivity that exists between the business side and personal side of sports for Sonny. His relationship with Ali is a prime example. He has no problems expressing himself in the war room, but around her he is a man of few words unable to express his true feelings. Jennifer Garner is strong in her supporting role as a woman who enjoys sports and who worked hard to get to her position within the Browns’ organization. So she’s functions more than love interest material in this sports drama. Other solid supporting performers include Dennis Leary as the coach, Frank Langella as the always wearing designer shades team owner, and 42‘s Chadwick Boseman and Houston Texans’ running back Arian Foster as top-pick draft prospects (interestingly enough, Foster went undrafted in 2009 and signed with the Texans as a undrafted free agent).
For director Ivan Reitman a film like Draft Day seems like he’s ventured down a different path career-wise. This is the same Ivan Reitman who gave us Stripes and Ghostbusters in the ‘80s and bridged to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comedic range with Twins and Kindergarten Cop. He’s dialed it down to give us a drama, albeit not a weighty one, with comedic touches. The story is predictable but promising if looking beyond the narrative. Reitman does just enough behind the camera where audiences can enjoy the movie for what it is: a crowd-pleaser. Whether it will make football aficionados and so-called “Monday Morning Quarterbacks” think twice before labeling a team hiring or firing as a boneheaded decision? Probably not.
Director: Ivan Reitman Writer(s): Scott Rothman and Rajiv Jospeh Notable Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Pence, Arian Foster, Terry Crews
Travis Leamons is one of the Inside Pulse Originals and currently holds the position of Managing Editor at Inside Pulse Movies. He's told that the position is his until he's dead or if "The Boss" can find somebody better. I expect the best and I give the best. Here's the beer. Here's the entertainment. Now have fun. That's an order!