Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: Draft Day

by Adam Riske
The less you know about sports the more you will probably enjoy Draft Day.

There’s nothing wrong with that. I can be entertained and involved when I watch Moneyball on cable, while I know that much of what’s discussed is bullshit amplified for dramatic effect. Draft Day is the same thing; aside from that, it works. Neither movie is a documentary, nor would a coloring-inside-the-lines approach be to the benefit of either. If you can get past that, I am recommending Draft Day. It met my mildly enthusiastic expectations.

I bring up the comparison to Moneyball because Draft Day owes a great deal to that earlier baseball movie. Without the financial and critical success of the former, the latter wouldn’t be playing in theaters; more importantly, both movies are character studies about the doubted general manager of a sports team strategically getting the upper-hand. It’s a fun arc to see play out in any case, especially when the disbelieved messiah is played by Kevin Costner.
There is something so appealing about Costner's acting. It's his grumpy sincerity. He wants to play by the rules, follow the American Dream, etc. but is defiant against those rules when he no longer has the advantage. And when he doesn’t have the advantage, he’s an amusing jerk. For example, there is a scene in Draft Day where Costner’s character enters the “war room” and sees three members of his team shooting the breeze, checking out a faux-dirty web site and speculating on how many women a star quarterback sleeps with in a week. Costner’s response is that he’s a few seconds away from beating the shit out of all three of them, because a) they’re wasting his time and b) he doesn’t suffer fools. The way that Costner grumpily doesn’t put up with bullshit is an actable choice and he does it in a charismatic, engaged way, unlike Harrison Ford (most famously known from playing Jock Goddard in Paranoia).  Costner almost willfully tries to make his characters into dicks and somehow he becomes more likable because of that. I want to be his friend is what I’m trying to say.
Aside from Costner’s performance, only one other actor shines and that’s Jackie Robinson/Chadwick Boseman/James Brown (42, the upcoming Get On Up) who is appealing and gets a big emotional scene near the end of the movie that he nails. It’s a sweet moment of pure joy. The rest of the performances from the likes of Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Ellen Burstyn, Sean Combs and Tom Welling are functional but professional. One of my favorite actors, Pat Healy, is in one scene and has to play an idiot. That was disappointing because he’s such an interesting actor – see Cheap Thrills for some great Pat Healy. Rosanna Arquette is also in the movie for two minutes and looks prrrrowwwwlll, which is animal for boner. She doesn’t have much of a part to play is what I mean.
Does the movie have flaws? Oh, you bet it does. My favorite slap-your-head dumb scene is when Frank Langella (who plays the team owner) invites Costner to a closed water park and gives the most heavy-handed analogy to “making a big splash” imaginable. If that weren’t enough, he explicitly states what the analogy is in case it wasn’t clear enough. Actually, Frank Langella is kind of bad in the movie. Much of that has to do with the writing of his character, though. The movie also has a good deal of logical imperfections and dealings where bluffs aren’t called/things are left to major chance but it never takes away from being swept up in the proceedings, especially when the draft is underway during the last 30 minutes of the movie.

Draft Day
is an entertaining trip to the movies. It’s not directed with much flair (by Ivan Reitman**, whose big move is blending split-screens together) nor is it always respectful of the audience’s intelligence, but it is the type of movie you will watch eight times when it is on cable in a few months. Like Moneyball, it will probably improve with familiarity.

*Note: There’s a line in the movie where Costner says (I’m paraphrasing) “You were eating your fucking pancakes” and it’s hilarious. It should have been the tagline on the poster.

**Draft Day is better than Reitman’s last few movies (No Strings Attached, My Super Ex-Girlfriend, Evolution) but not one of his best.


  1. I'm relieved that you dug this. Was on the fence but now I'm eager to check it out. Btw -Does Costner hold the record for being in the most sports movies? He's gotta be at least in the top 5.

  2. Chaybee, Bubby...when it comes to sports movies; Costner's your white knight!

  3. Huge football fan...Bears season ticket holder. Interested in how he does another sports movie. Trailers did not excite me, but a football movie in my mind is fun (either I enjoy it or enjoy ripping it). So did Jennifer phone in more than DBC? :)

    1. Jennifer Garner's work in the movie DEFINES 'thankless.' It's not her fault; she is given a terrible part to play. I don't even know what she's supposed to be. Her character changes on a scene by scene basis depending on what the screenplay needs her to be at any given minute.

      The movie doesn't feel cynical at all, but it's actually weirdly cynical when you stand back and think about it. Hollywood used to make movies about the Big Game. Now they're making movies about the guys in charge deciding the fates of the players.

      I'm totally with Adam's review. The movie is better than I expected and super watchable. But to his point, know nothing about sports.

    2.'ll probably lose your mind over how the GMs dangle multiple 1st round picks like they were nothing. That part was driving me crazy.

      I'm more of a baseball fan than a football one so Moneyball bugged me more. In that movie a) it overlooks the fact that the A's always get booted immediately from the playoffs so it's not this miracle story; b) implies that Boston won the world series in '04 by using "moneyball" and not by having Ortiz, Manny, Pedro etc. and c) caused legions of non-sports fans to say "they should just use moneyball" whenever a real-life team wasn't winning

    3. Has Jennifer Garner EVER been given a really good part in a movie? She always seems to do a fine job - it's the roles that are completely forgettable.

    4. I thought she was cute in 13 Going on 30 and liked her in Catch & Release, but she's usually better in smaller, almost character parts like in Juno and The Kingdom. She's a great example of what so many actresses are reduced to in Hollywood now: she's pretty, she's talented, and no one knows what to do with her besides "girlfriend."

  4. Wow, I'm pleasantly surprised by how positive your review is - even though I'm a pretty big football fan I had absolutely no interest in seeing this. I'll check it out - if it's anywhere near as watchable as Moneyball, I'm in.

    I can see Kevin Costner being an endearing dick. Like in Man of Steel when he's all, "Don't be saving me Superman, even though it would be super easy, I'd rather force you and your mother to grieve my death," I was like, "I love this asshole!"

    1. I'm worried I oversold Draft Day. It's like one notch above "it's fine". My favorite "I love this asshole" Costner moment is in The Guardian where it is implied that he died but might be an ocean spirit that now saves people who are about to drown. You KNOW that had to be his idea.

    2. Ha! I haven't seen The Guardian - that's amazing. Though to be fair he would be a pretty great ocean spirit.

      I don't think you oversold it man - a notch above "it's fine" is two notches higher than I thought it would be so you know, now I'd watch it instead of Moneyball if they were both on at the same time.

  5. It was a fine movie. Although it may have paid a bit too much attention to needless subplots, the draft stuff itself is what kept me watching and so interested in the first place.

  6. I know as much about football as I know about baseball - nothing. But as I mentioned in the There`s no crying in baseball column, give me a sports movie title and I'm in, especially when this movie has Kevin Costner in it.
    I love this guy since I saw him for the first time in Silverado. For me he often is the best part of the movie. The latest example is Pa Kent in Man of steel. Without him I would have been really disappointed with that movie.
    Draft Day to me is the best movie Ivan Reitman directed since Dave in 1993, which surprisingly made me realize that apart from Stripes, Meatballs, Ghostbusters, Dave and this he mostly made mediocre to bad movies.
    Knowing nothing about the rules seems to be good for enjoying this movie and everything else Adam writes I can second. It has good pacing and I also liked the bright camerawork ( yes, I also liked the split screens) and John Debneys score.
    This is not a great movie but it´s totally fine for a lazy afternoon.
    Adam, you´re right with your statement "but it is the type of movie you will watch eight times when it is on cable". I'm sure I will.