‘Draft Day’ as indecisive as Reitman

By Karsten Burgstahler

In football, being a bandwagon fan is a cardinal sin.

Jumping from one team to another because of their record is considered wishy-washy.Director Ivan Reitman coaches “Draft Day” in a manner as wishy-washy as a Jets fan suddenly rooting for Seattle. It helps a little that the film’s screenplay hits some unexpected notes in the third act, but by no means does the film throw a successful Hail Mary with the timer ticking down.

This problem becomes evident in one scene when Cleveland Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) runs through a list of famous quarterbacks breaking down their little flaws. He talks about John Elway and Peyton Manning, so it’s clear the movie is rooted in reality.


But later on the film deviates by naming non-existent quarterbacks, giving the Broncos and the Seahawks players with forgettable names.

This may seem like a minor complaint, especially for moviegoers who don’t care about the National Football League and just want Costner to make a good movie again. But this film’s citizenship in two different versions of America is a symptom of the overall lack of care the writers put into the film.

The plot is fairly simple: After giving up three first-round picks to the Seahawks for the overall first pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Weaver is given the opportunity to draft Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), an all-star Wisconsin quarterback who seems to be invincible beyond his occasional playboy indiscretion — or, he’s Johnny Manziel but the writers couldn’t use Manziel’s name. In the last 12 hours before the draft begins, Weaver investigates several other players and devises a plan to come out of the draft looking strong. We don’t go on a journey so much as we get an inside look at an industry.

The film strays away from feeling as documentarian as did 2011’s “Moneyball” did on occasion, but that’s not necessarily a compliment. This plot isn’t nearly as compelling. “Moneyball” was an incredible but true story taken from a rather routine baseball process. In contrast, “Draft Day” is a fictional tale that embellishes an annual event the writers treat like Christmas for football fans.

Because Reitman and his crack team realize they must expand the appeal beyond NFL fans to make this movie a success, they inject some personal drama into the film. Weaver is canoodling with another executive named Ali (Jennifer Garner) and just lost his father, a former Browns coach Weaver actually fired, one week prior. Much is made of how fans don’t want Weaver to tarnish his father’s legacy, but he clearly didn’t have the best relationship with Pops.

Then we get the drama from the three players Weaver is considering. Pence plays Bo with a smarminess reminiscent of that jock you hated in high school, and the problem the writers ascribe to him in a third-act twist goes underdeveloped. The more interesting story belongs to Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman), who managed to sack Bo four times that season and is quite upset when he hears Weaver is considering Bo.

Finally there’s Ray Jennings (Arian Foster), the son of a Browns legend who just wants to play for his dad’s team. He’s relegated to the sidelines for much of the film until the finale, when he provides a real emotional crux. Spoilers aside, it’s that classic sports movie scene that’ll cause guys to well up while claiming they’ve “just got something in their eyes.”


Had Weaver’s relationship with his father been as interesting as were any of these subplots, it would’ve been worth exploring. Costner is a fine actor and it’s clear the producers felt his film resume of workingman’s roles would connect with the audience, but even he can’t stop it from feeling like drama for drama’s sake, especially when the whole story fails to yield a emotional resolution. The audience learns why Weaver fired his father, but that’s it. It’s a lot of build up to a lot of nothing.

For his part, Reitman films as if he’s capturing true emotions from the players. The scenes shot at the actual 2013 NFL Draft, the first things filmed, don’t feel like a movie — at that point “Draft Day” feels a bit like an engrossing documentary.

The rest of the film is shot like a comic book, with thin white lines separating two different scenes sharing the screen and characters occasionally drifting between the scenes. This technique has no real purpose in the film and only serves as a distraction, almost like a way to edit the movie quickly for younger moviegoers without cutting long takes.

It’s a shame the filmmakers chose to take inherently dramatic material and overlay it with boardroom drama that doesn’t work nearly as well as they thought it would. Front-office dramas can work. But the awkward mix of reality and fiction — both in the NFL scenes and in the film’s crucial conflicts — keeps “Draft Day” an extra point rather than a touchdown.

Karsten Burgstahler can be reached at [email protected]on Twitter @kburgstahler_DE or by phone at 536-3311 ext. 254.