NFL Draft Day Is Here … in Movie Form, at Least

April 14th, 2014 by Jim Chesko | Filed under 94WIP, Football, General, NFL, TalkSportsPhilly.


If you’re a hardcore fan of the National Football League, there is perhaps no more-anticipated out-of-season day than Day One of the draft. Who will go No. 1?  How many trades will be made? (Will the Eagles take a wide receiver with their Round One pick?)

Well, we’ll have to wait until May 8 for those answers in the real world, but in the meantime we have the new movie “Draft Day,” directed by Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters,” “Meatballs,” “Stripes,” “Dave”),  about a pro football executive in crisis mode on the big day.  That executive is Sonny Weaver Jr., fictional general manager of the long-suffering Cleveland Browns, son of Browns recently deceased former coach Sonny Weaver Sr., whom – it turns out – Junior had fired. Yes, he fired his father!

The Browns GM is played by Kevin Costner, who – with this football flick – checks off another sport in his filmography, which already included baseball (“Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “For Love of the Game”), bike racing (“American Flyers”), golf (“Tin Cup”) and, of course, dancing with wolves!   

Draft Day movie stillThe “Draft Day” story in a nutshell: The Browns are slotted seventh in the 2014 draft, but on the morning of May 8, Sonny Jr. agrees to a questionable trade with the Seattle Seahawks that gets Cleveland the No. 1. overall pick. (Yes, in the film, the Seahawks originally owned the No. 1 pick.  The movie was filmed last spring and summer, so producers were probably a bit disappointed to watch the real-life Seahawks have a tremendous season, culminating with a Super Bowl win, and in reality not getting to make a selection – barring a trade – until the 32nd and final pick of Round One.)

Anyway, pretty much the entire movie takes place on May 8, with Sonny trying to decide whether to re-trade the top pick, or use it to take highly touted quarterback Bo Callahan (Sonny has some doubts about Bo), running back Bo Jennings (played well by Houston Texans running back Arian Foster), or take linebacker Vontae Mack (“42” star Chadwick Boseman), whom he probably could have had simply by staying put at No. 7. The team’s owner (Frank Langella) is breathing down Sonny’s neck, pushing for the splashy pick of Bo Callahan, while the Jon Gruden-ish head coach, played superbly by Denis Leary, is battling him at every turn.  The GM and the coach don’t get along very well at all.

One other plot point: Sonny’s salary-cap expert and secret girlfriend, played by Jennifer Garner, has just told him that she’s pregnant. Ah, the drama!

I won’t spoil it by telling you how it all turns out – you could probably figure a lot of that out on your own already – but I will tell you that, despite some obvious flaws, “Draft Day” is reasonably entertaining. One of the real highlights: Leary as Coach Vince Penn, complete with a Grudenesque snarl.

Kudos to Reitman’s editors for using an interesting method of displaying telephone conversations so important to this screenplay. Rather than using a typical split screen between parties, the editing allows one image to superimpose on another. The effect creates interesting movement and visual cues, like Sonny literally shouldering his way into a deal, or being breezed past by another GM who’s hundreds of miles away. Good stuff.

Also on the positive side, the script is decent (though probably a bit unrealistic in several cases), Radio City Music Hall looked pretty much like it does on the real draft day (in fact, some scenes were filmed there last spring), the acting is fine and there are some good cameos – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Browns legend Jim Brown, former Ravens star Ray Lewis and a slew of ESPN and NFL Network anchors and commentators including Gruden himself, Chris Berman, Mel Kiper, Mike Mayock, Deion Sanders and Rich Eisen.

On the downside, there’s no mention of our Philadelphia Eagles (although Terry Crews, who played part of 1996 with the Birds and is now a pretty good actor – “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” – has a supporting role), there’s not a lot of depth to the characters and you’ll probably say at several points “That just wouldn’t really happen!”  Hey, it’s just a movie, gang. Relax!

“Draft Day” isn’t going to join “Raging Bull,” “Hoosiers” and “Bull Durham” on the list of cinema’s all-time greatest sports movies. It’s not a game-winning touchdown pass, but it’s definitely worth a look. Like “Moneyball,” this one probably has a little too much “insider” stuff for the casual football fan. But if you’re someone who lives and breathes football year round, you’ll find lots to enjoy about “Draft Day.”  The Chesko grade for this one: B-

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