I wasn’t born into a football-loving family, and my attention span is usually too short to sit through an entire game.
After watching “Draft Day,” though, I find myself reading up on this year’s top draftees and counting down the days until the draft.
It’s NFL Draft Day 2014 and Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, has his plate full. Besides the pressure of getting the right draft pick to give the down-and-out team a new jolt of energy, the team’s salary attorney (Jennifer Gardner) — and Weaver’s after-hours girlfriend — announces she is pregnant.
In an effort to appease the team’s owner, Weaver takes the GM of the Seattle Seahawks (Patrick St. Esprit) up on an exorbitant trade that gets the Browns the number one draft pick this year, but infuriates the Browns’ coach (Dennis Leary) because of its effects down the road. Then Weaver’s mother shows up to scatter the ashes of his recently deceased father.
Meanwhile, the candidates themselves present a whole different set of problems. The Heisman Trophy winner and popular favorite, Bo Callahan (Josh Pence) is the obvious jolt for the Browns (much to the chagrin of the team’s current quarterback, Brian Drew, played by Tom Welling), but small, potential problems keep cropping up.
With the price Weaver paid for the number one pick, he can hardly be expected to waste the opportunity on the two candidates (Chadwick Boseman and Arian Foster) he was considering for his original number seven pick. As the clock winds down to the opening of the draft, Weaver still can’t seem to find the option that will make everyone happy and be best for the team.
There is almost no on-the-field play here — most of the football we see played is in draftee highlight films or playbacks of classic games. There is also a lot of personal drama amid the sports-centered chaos.
In many ways, “Draft Day” is reminiscent of 2012’s “Trouble With the Curve,” where the story centered around the major league baseball draft but the major drama really surrounded the scouts. The difference is that where “Curve” stalls, “Draft Day” hits the gas. This is still clearly a sports movie, but it gives almost political intrigue to the draft.
This movie is tight. It’s a solid two hours long, but I didn’t think it felt like it. There’s a ticking clock right from the beginning, so we know they mean business. There are a lot of moving parts, but most of them make sense, even for people unfamiliar with the drafting process (speaking from experience).
Because the entire story takes place in about a 13-hour span, we only get bits and pieces of the characters and their histories at a time, in context. It can be a little confusing, but the actors are largely skilled enough to deliver enough nuance so that we have a pretty good idea of what’s going on.
What was more annoying, however, was the constant split-screen pan whenever two people who weren’t in the same room were involved. I think this was done with the goal of making the viewer feel more involved in the action, but it was a little jarring.
Occasionally, one character would walk across the other character’s screen, or there would be a cutout of, say, an elbow or something. It’s kind of confusing to explain, but the effect felt like watching a moving comic book.
Unlike most sports movies, there isn’t a clear conflict and an obvious solution — there is no championship game for the underdog team, or buzzer-beating three-pointer, or improbable grand slam that turns the tide, or 99-yard run for the winning touchdown.
Right up until the last 15 to 20 minutes, I couldn’t see the ending. But when it finally did come — and I hope I’m not giving too much away here — it’s amazing how I felt like cheering as much about a phone call as you usually do for one of those on-the-field victories.
Most impressively, it turns a process that fans typically see as an orderly dodgeball-team-like series of picks inside out, and reveals a more complex and crafty scene behind the curtain that makes it feel exciting and relevant even for people who usually couldn’t care less about the draft.
I’m not saying “Draft Day” is a better sports movie than, say, “42” — gosh, no — but it is one of the most suspenseful movies of any genre I’ve seen in a while.
Time: 120 minutes