When you’re watching a movie about any sort of sports draft, you can almost certainly be assured that something or other is going to come right down to the buzzer, and that’s going to be our primary source of drama and tension. I imagine a trade deadline movie would be the same way. In order to keep an audience engaged you need to make sure that at least much of what precedes this “down to the wire” stuff is worth watching. In Draft Day, it most certainly is not.
I’m not sure if we’ve previously gotten a movie about the NFL draft, but it sure feels like we have. Everything leading up to the “buzzer moment” is as formulaic as they come, and it’s not even particularly impactful. Very little of it matters, and the way that it builds up certain characters means, assuming you know anything about sports drafting — and possibly even if you don’t — you’ll be able to figure out more or less exactly how things are going to play out. That renders the only form of drama and suspense the film could potentially generate entirely worthless.
Draft Day takes place over the last 13 hours before the NFL draft. The lead is the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, Sonny Weaver, Jr. (Kevin Costner). He’s told by the team’s owner in an early scene that he needs to make a splash, or else he’s fired. So, he trades the future for the number one pick. This upsets the head coach (Denis Leary), and might potentially ruin the franchise in the long term. The rest of the film involves Sonny attempting to figure out if he made the right choice, and if he didn’t, trying to rectify it.
If you’ve seen the trailer for Draft Day, you might have been led into thinking that the whole movie involves wheeling and dealing, all while our protagonist goes against all conventional logic in order to solve all of the problems that the club has. This is what happens in the last ten minutes of the film. Draft Day runs for just under two hours long. What do we get for the rest of the running time? Pointless drama that doesn’t amount to much, and actually goes to weaken the nail-biting finale.
The problem, I think, comes from the fact that we’re only introduced to three players in the draft. There’s a quarterback, Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), whom everyone believes will go #1. There are also two other players, although I can’t remember their names or positions. Sonny is determined to find something wrong with Callahan, while the other two players are good family men. What do you think happens? Can’t you already figure it out? Oh, right, and Cleveland already has a quarterback for the season.
Draft Day doesn’t even seem to want to spend much effort hiding exactly what’s going to happen. It only introduces us to important characters, it sets them all up on a clear “side,” and Sonny seems set in his ways. When it comes down to the film’s final moments, about the only thing we have to find out is how exactly Sonny is going to leverage his way into doing what seems like the impossible, but in reality is the only logical outcome.
We’re also forced to sit through non-drama involving Sonny and the Browns’ capologist, Ali (Jennifer Garner), who are in a secret relationship, as well as a side-story with Sonny and his mother (Ellen Burstyn). None of this works because the characters are so shallow. Sonny is singularly focused on the draft, Ali has absolutely no depth, and we don’t get enough from his mother to even consider her more than a plot device in order to bring up some past “feelings” between Sonny and his father, who was the head coach before Sonny fired him — for reasons that are treated as important and secret but are neither.
This is not an “actors’ film.” Kevin Costner is fine and you can believe him as the GM, but there are no showy scenes or even much quick wit required. He’s just there, in that role, doing things that real GMs do. It’s not a glamorous job, nor is it one that’s really worth following, even on a day as “exciting” as the NFL draft. Jennifer Garner, of whom I’ve been very critical in the past, is also fine here. But that’s just it. Everyone’s fine, but nobody stands out. Well, nobody except for Sam Elliot in a cameo role, and perhaps only because I kept wondering if it was Sam Elliot or Jim Leyland (they look somewhat similar).
I wonder if you have to be a big NFL fan in order to get much out of Draft Day. This is certainly a bigger deal to Americans than to audiences in any other place in the world, and I don’t want to presume anything on their behalf. Browns fans might especially find something to like, given that the film features their team prominently, and because that very team is a mess right now in real life. I can imagine some of them leaving the cinema and making statements such as: “I wish Sonny Weaver, Jr. could be our GM.”
Draft Day is a buzzer-beater film, one in which all of the drama and tension boils down to the final few minutes. The problem with this, especially here, is that there’s very little leading up to the finale that’s worth seeing, and much of it actually weakens the impact that such a conclusion could have. The characters are shallow, the performances are nothing special, and it’s so predictable and formulaic that it becomes a bore, even during its ending.