Continental Op’s Scouting Report: DRAFT DAY is a Bust
Special Thanks to Xiphos and Barfy.
I’m still laboring over my opus, a review/critical analysis of the 2013 remake of Carrie, but after seeing Draft Day I felt compelled to do a quick write-up.
Draft Day reminds me of something coach Jerry Glanville once said while he was a color commentator. While explaining which of the three gaps, “holes”, a running back was going to run through behind his offensive line, he said “You’ve got the A-hole, the B-hole and the C-hole, and he’s going to run it right up the A-hole.” Well, the makers of Draft Day decided to run it up the A-hole, repeatedly.
Actually, that is not 100% true. Because if they did than at least it would create a visceral reaction in me, no matter how unpleasant it was. This film made me feel nothing, which is an even worse sin. It is the cinematic equivalent of the NFL pre-season – utterly pointless.
Draft Day is about Sonny Weaver, Jr. (Kevin Costner), the GM for the fictional Cleveland Browns (I say fictional because this movie pretends that the Browns are an actual NFL team), as we follow him for the 24 hours that lead up to, you guessed it, the NFL draft. The consensus number one pick is the Heisman Trophy winning QB from the University of Wisconsin, Bo Callahan, and Sonny has just been offered a trade by the Seattle Seahawks that’ll give his team that pick. But Sonny has his doubts about the Badger’s character, so he is considering drafting gung-ho linebacker Vontae Mack (played by Chadwick Boseman) or running back Arian Jennings (Arian Foster). Besides dealing with the stress and pressure of the draft, Sonny has to deal with his girlfriend’s (Jennifer Garner) unexpected pregnancy, the death of his father (the former coach for the Brown whom he fired), an overbearing mom (Ellen Burstyn), and conflict with new egotistical head coach (Dennis Leary).
The film is as slickly produced as a NFL pre-game show, and just as vapid. Sure the acting, the cinematography, editing, and production values are all first class, and the use of split screen is clever and an engaging method to link characters during telephone conversations (which there are many), but the film itself is prosaic. It is as deep as a rain puddle and lacks any sort of nuance, as everything is told to us instead of shown.
And ironically, for a film about a sport that is all about risk and toughness, it is completely safe and spineless. There are a number of important issues within the world of pro football – long-term players’ health, the effects of concussions and brain damage, owners holding cities hostage for new stadiums, the obscene amounts of money involved, our society’s unnatural obsession over sports, etc. – but none of these are tackled in Draft Day. Instead we are treated to an ode to the heroic, brave NFL executive, as he learns a valuable lesson of following his gut and being true to his self, a theme much more suited for a Pixar movie than something aiming to be football’s answer to Moneyball. The film might acknowledge that the position a player is selected will effect his fortunes and his life significantly, but it doesn’t ever bother question how the players are treated as commodities, and instead has the temerity to suggest that the NFL (through GM’s like the one Costner is portraying) truly care about the character of these young men, and that in the end the draft will fairly sort them out, as if it was a form of karma. Even when it does explicitly mention something remotely “controversial”, like the original Browns moving the franchise to Baltimore, it frames it as a badge of honor for the people of Cleveland, instead of a greedy dick move by owner Art Modell.
I often complain about Marvel movies and other franchises, where the studios and producers are more concerned with protecting the brand name than they are in making a good movie. Well, Draft Day is even guiltier of this sin than any Marvel movies, which at least usually have the good sense to be entertaining. Here Reitman does just the bare minimum to keep the narrative going but nothing that could threaten to tarnish the NFL’s rep. The fact that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell shows up, playing himself, just confirms he has tacitly signed off on one long NFL commercial.