Kevin Costner's film career seemed to be on hiatus, other than playing ClarkKent's father last year in "Man of Steel". But so far, in 2014, Costner has appeared in rapid succession in no less than three films beginning with "Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit", followed by the miserable "3 Days to Kill". However, his third, "Draft Day", offers up Costner's best performance in what feels like forever.
Playing Sonny Weaver Jr., the fictional general manager of the Cleveland Browns (NFL football team, for those of you who reside under a rock), Costner at once fits into this role like slipping on a supple leather glove. He's relaxed --- at ease with himself and his performance --- and it shows.
Though I could have lived without his romantic relationship with Ali (Jennifer Garner) who also works for the Browns, it's not enough of a deterrent to not like this film. Garner, herself, is okay, but her character is poorly constructed and not given much to do, though she does offer some comic relief.
Sonny, as the new GM, had done the unthinkable --- he fired his own father, Sonny Sr., the past coach, who was a beloved icon at the Browns, and industry-wide. So Sonny is dealing with a rash of resentment, and a new head coach, Vince Penn (Denis Leary), whom he thinks is nothing more than a "babysitter" --- his last job was with the Super Bowl-winning Dallas Cowboys.
NFL draft day is approaching, and everyone, including Browns' owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) is nervous and excited. Sonny has done some backroom finagling to get the number one pick Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), the most likely Heisman Trophy winner, and now all involved, including management, and especially the fans, are pumped.
But will Sonny use that pick or trade it away for a possible better outcome, including a star outside linebacker, Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman), who played for The Ohio State University --- a big deal for Browns fans --- and a much needed running back, Ray Jennings (Arian Foster), a Browns legacy. If he doesn't select Callahan, then the Browns must stick with their current quarterback, Brian Drew (Tom Welling), whose performance the previous season was less than impressive.
As Sonny and Penn go at it over which player should or shouldn't be drafted, Costner's and Leary's performances leap off the screen. It was a terrific casting decision, and each actor is equally good at making their claims about what is best for their team. But, again, there's just enough humor to keep this all believable.
Screenwriters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman have provided Ivan Reitman with a truly well-written screenplay. This is not another "football" movie. It's a fascinating peek into the down-to-the-wire machinations that exist in an NFL draft. Much like "Moneyball" did for baseball, "Draft Day" exposes the harsh realities and competitiveness of another major league sport. Football is a tough, tough business, and if you don't believe that, just watch this film. Owners, coaches and fans want what they want, and just about anything goes.
I grew up a Cleveland Browns fan, and without any snickering from my insufferable partner, I remain one to this day. You can never forget the greatness of the legendary Jim Brown, the Browns record-setting running back, or Bernie Kosar, a former quarterback from my hometown. Both of them appear in "Draft Day" as themselves --- great fun. But whether or not you're a Cleveland Browns fan, or a fan for any other NFL team, "Draft Day" is an exciting introspective into the world of professional football.
Opinion: See It Now!
You don't have to be a football fan to become engrossed in "Draft Day". And you don't have to be at least 17 years old to get into a theatre showing this latest Kevin Costner vehicle. Originally given an "R" rating by the MPAA, director Ivan Reitman won his appeal, and the film was pared back to a PG-13.
That's a good thing because "Draft Day" is a solid movie that should inspire a lot of young people to stay consistent with their dreams and their values. Sure, it's ostensibly a film that centers around the NFL's annual draft of college football stars, but it's also a story about conflicts in our everyday lives, and how we deal with them. As a big football fan, I loved this movie, but so should anyone who likes a well-written drama, tinged with humor and emotion.
It's Costner's best role since his underrated "Mr. Brooks" (2007). He's a natural as Cleveland Browns' GM Sonny Weaver Jr., and after watching this film, I can't picture any other actor capturing his character so completely. Costner often portrays the guy that everyone wants to root for, and his turn in "Draft Day" is something that the average moviegoer can relate to, even though he's one of only 32 men in the real world that has this particular job.
Sonny is surrounded by a mountain of stress, even as the on-screen clock counts down the hours and minutes until the pro teams must make their selections. His father has passed away a week earlier, and his mother Barb (Ellen Burstyn) is imploring him to scatter his dad's ashes. His girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner) is the team's salary cap manager, the Browns' coach is Vince Penn (Denis Leary), and the team's owner is Anthony Molina (Frank Langella). They all have opinions about who the Number One pick should be, but the ultimate responsibility lies with the general manager.
Sonny maneuvers the Browns into the draft's coveted first pick, and the whole world expects him to select a star quarterback (Josh Pence), a potential future Hall of Famer, from the University of Wisconsin. Of course, the Browns already have a veteran QB in Brian Drew (Tom Welling), who wants to keep his job. Other potential draftees, like Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman from "42"), a star linebacker from Ohio State, and Ray Jennings (current NFL star Arian Foster), a highly touted runner from Florida State, muddle the choices facing Sonny, and if he screws it up, he could be mortgaging the team's future.
First time feature film writers Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph (a Cleveland native and long-time Browns fan), could be this year's version of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon penning the Oscar-winning "Good Will Hunting". Reitman was immediately smitten with their script, reading it in no time, and thinking only of Costner as his leading man.
The veteran director has infused "Draft Day" with legitimate NFL personalities like former coach Jon Gruden, former players Jim Brown, Ray Lewis, Deion Sanders and Bernie Kosar, ESPN talents Chris Berman and Mel Kiper, and current NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. But let's put it this way --- one look at Reitman's resume should be enough to get you into the theatre. He has directed mega-hits "Stripes" and "Ghostbusters", and produced "Animal House" and "Up in the Air".
"Draft Day" is a treat that doesn't wear out its welcome at a brisk 109 minutes.
Opinion: See It Now!