[Screen It]


(2014) (Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner) (PG-13)

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Drama: The general manager of an NFL team must contend with various points of pressure on him as he strives to select the best player for the team on draft day.
It's draft day in the NFL and Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (KEVIN COSTNER) knows his focus must be solely on selecting the best player to help his team succeed when the season starts. That means that his girlfriend, Ali (JENNIFER GARNER), isn't particularly pleased with his less than enthusiastic response to news that she's pregnant by him.

Of course, as the team's salary cap manager, she understands why he's acting that way, particularly since the clock is ticking toward their pick, the number seven spot in the first round. There's also the fact that he's under public scrutiny after having fired the team's beloved coach who just so happened to be his father, and thus the locals want the team to pick Ray Jennings (ARIAN FOSTER) whose agent-father, Earl (TERRY CREWS), was a former Browns player.

Nonetheless, Sonny's first choice for their initial pick is college linebacker Vontae Mack (CHADWICK BOSEMAN) who's represented by agent Chris Crawford (SEAN COMBS). But team owner Anthony Molina (FRANK LANGELLA) believes that defensive players don't make the sort of big splash he's looking for. Accordingly, and against his better judgment, Sonny agrees to trade the team's first round draft picks for the next three years to Seattle Seahawks general manager Tom Michaels (PATRICK ST. ESPIRIT) for their number one draft pick this year.

And that's to get highly coveted college quarterback Bo Callahan (JOSH PENCE), a decision that doesn't sit well with Browns coach Vince Penn (DENIS LEARY) and especially current Browns quarterback Brian Drew (TOM WELLING). That has Ali scrambling to make sure the salary cap numbers work, all while new intern Rick (GRIFFIN NEWMAN) tries to keep up with all of the developments.

With time counting down toward the beginning of the draft, Sonny must deal with the fall-out from his surprise trade and other related moves; his relationship with Ali and her unexpected news; and even his mother Barb (ELLEN BURSTYN) who's arrived with the desire of spreading her late husband's ashes on the training field, all while her son attempts to do the best thing for his team.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
Certain Hollywood performers become so associated with a certain role that they're forever viewed as that character and have a hard time breaking away from that or being typecast in similar parts. Others have the same fate befall them when they too often appear in the same genre and thus become permanently associated with that. Rarer are those who do dabble quite a bit in one particular genre, and often return to it, but manage to maintain an otherwise balanced career.

The person that immediately comes to mind with the latter is Kevin Costner. From baseball ("Bull Durham," "Field of Dreams" and "For the Love of the Game") to golf ("Tin Cup") and even bicycle racing ("American Flyers"), the nearly 60-year-old actor has appeared in the sports drama genre often, yet also managed to do the same in westerns, thrillers and big-budget studio tent pole flicks.

His latest project, however, has him returning to the sports arena where fans can't seem to get enough of him, but this time he's traded in the baseball glove and 9-iron for football pads in "Draft Day." Mind you, he's not playing an AARP eligible player bucking the odds, common sense and potential bone-crunching injuries by returning to the field. Instead he's operating out of the front office selecting members for his pro football team on the day succinctly addressed by the film's title.

Yes, it's sort of "Moneyball" from the NFL perspective. But while that film was based on a real-life event and took place before and during an entire baseball season, this one is pure fiction and takes place from just the morning through the evening on the titular day. Thus, we never see the results -- good or bad -- of the pressure cooker decisions, deal-making and jockeying that occurs behind the scenes.

Granted, it wasn't that long ago that the NFL draft was an important but mostly unseen part of the NFL world. Nowadays, there's 'round the clock coverage on a certain TV channel, reporting from the pre-draft combine where aspiring draftees show up to show off their physical wares, and then the big event itself where at minimum the first round is held in front of a live audience and televised across the lands.

Accordingly, there's a lot of pressure on owners, general managers, coaches and so on about getting just the right choice. This film -- from director Ivan Reitman and screenwriters Scott Rothman & Rajiv Joseph -- takes us behind the scenes to watch how one fictional GM tries to juggle demands, expectations and outside complications and distractions in hoping to make a choice that goes boom rather than bust.

With a surprising amount of obvious cooperation on the part of the NFL -- real teams are depicted, actual stadiums are shown and none other than commissioner Roger Goodell shows up playing himself -- the film starts off early on the morning of the pivotal day. That's when Cleveland Browns GM Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) is preparing to head down to the office, much to the dismay of his girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) who's none too happy about his apparent reaction to her recent announcement that she's pregnant by him.

Fairly new to the team and having recently fired his beloved coach father from the job (and having to deal with his feisty replacement played by Denis Leary), Sonny is obviously distracted by expectations not only from the owner (Frank Langella), staff and fans, but also prospective draft picks (Chadwick Boseman, Arian Foster and Josh Pence) who think they should get the selection nod.

While some of what transpires early in the film won't entirely be believable to diehard pro football fanatics (the initial trade Costner's character makes for the player Langella's character wants), and the dialogue isn't of the same caliber as that of "Moneyball" (that had Aaron Sorkin on the keyboard), most everyone else will easily go along for the ride as the clock ticks down toward the time to make a decision. With an array of possibilities presented, our interest is maintained by default to see how things play out.

But all involved (especially Costner) also manage to imbue the proceedings with enough nuances, humor and strategy that the film ends up elevated above the level where it quite easily could have coasted. In fact, this is one of those pics that gets better as it unfolds, especially when the protagonist is revealed to be quite the wizard at what he does, although his status of being the hero or quite possibly run out of town hangs in the balance for most of the pic's 110-some minute runtime. With winning performances all around and an increasingly engaging storyline, "Draft Day" ends up a winning choice. It rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed March 19, 2014 / Posted April 11, 2014

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