Mark Reviews Movies

Draft Day


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Ivan Reitman

Cast: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Ellen Bursyn, Griffin Newman, Josh Pence, Chadwick Boseman, Sean Combs, Arian Foster, Terry Crews, Tom Welling, Patrick St. Esprit, Chi McBride, Sam Elliott

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for brief strong language and sexual references)

Running Time: 1:49

Release Date: 4/11/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | April 11, 2014

Take it from someone who has been there recently: It's incredibly easy to lose yourself in a job as a way to avoid, delay, and otherwise attempt to forget the necessity of processing a major shift in your life. Even when the things you're trying to ignore are right in front of you, there's a distancing effect to the work. It's not time yet, and you can't look any further than the next step in the job. It's comforting.

In Draft Day, comfort is in the preparation for the National Football League draft for Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner), the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. It's the most stressful time of the year for him and especially this year. The team hasn't been doing well. A sports commentator on the radio suggests that fans are too ashamed to even say the word "football" in the city. He's one wrong choice away from being fired, but at least the professional pressure is a more tenable prospect than everything else happening in his life.

His father, the Browns' former coach, died a week ago, and there was bad blood between the two after Sonny fired him father for what turns out to be a perfectly legitimate and loving reason. He couldn't explain it to his old man, though.

His girlfriend has announced she's pregnant, and he doesn't know how to react. It doesn't help that she works for the team.

His mother (Ellen Burstyn) wants him to be more involved in settling his father's estate, and she's an expert at laying on a guilt trip. When she arrives unannounced in his office with his father's ashes with the plan of scattering them across the practice field that was named in his father's honor, he refuses to participate because the draft starts in a matter of hours. Instead, she marches everyone else in the office to the field in a solemn parade, and she clearly made sure Sonny is around to see the display of respect.

What's important here is not what Sonny talks about—football, always football—but everything that he avoids in conversation. If someone mentions his father, he'll brush it off as quickly as possible—thanking someone for offering their condolences or, in the most extreme case, insisting that if a person dares to bring up his father again that they at least have the respect to call him "Coach Weaver." When the topic of Ali (Jennifer Garner), his girlfriend, arises with the insinuation that they're in a relationship, he'll laugh it off or scold the person for wasting his time with juvenile rumors.

We're not sure if Sonny is the kind of person to discuss his problems with anyone—even the people he loves and trusts. What we know for sure is that he really, really doesn't want to talk about anything else right now. It's all too close—still too painful or worrying to deal with such things.

Right now, he's only going to talk about football. Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph's screenplay is overflowing with these discussions. Sonny talks on the phone with prospective draft picks: a defensive lineman named Vontae (Chadwick Boseman) who would rather spend the day with his family than experience the big show at Radio City Music Hall, a running back named Ray (Arian Foster) who had a run-in with the law and is trying to convince everyone he's not a bad guy, and a quarterback named Bo (Josh Pence) who has heard everyone say he's the best and acts accordingly. He wheels and deals with other general managers across the league to figure out trades and draft-pick positions all the way up to and during the draft itself. He argues with Coach Penn (Denis Leary) about whose team it really is.

It's interesting on its own, and it doesn't indulge in too much insider talk. Everything comes down to a simple rationale: Who benefits?

The real reason the film works as well as it does, though, is not the fly-on-the-wall feel of the conversations but the way director Ivan Reitman understands the drive behind their prevalence in the story beyond the ticking clock of the start of the draft. By the end of the film, it's quite clear that Sonny's decision is not as up in the air as he seems to suggest to everyone around him, yet here he is, talking and talking and talking about a conclusion he has likely reached well before the film starts.

It's routine; it's familiar. It's anything but the death of his father, the knowledge that he's going to be a dad himself, and the familial drama that has no foreseeable end. The football conversations are busy, whether in terms of the rhythm of the dialogue or the visual of a split screen in which parts of the image on one side overlap with the image on the other. On the less frequent occasions that Sonny is discussing personal matters directly, the dialogue and editing beats slow. The camera holds on characters longer. Business matters may occupy much of the film, but the stylistic contrast gives the private scenes equal importance.

There's one shot where Sonny's two mindsets intersect. It's an insert in the middle of a seemingly perfunctory chat with one of the prospective draft picks that holds on a folded note in Sonny's hand. The shot holds for the duration of a pause that's uncommonly long for one of Sonny's football talks. Without any prompting, we know the significance of the note even if we don't know what's written on it. Draft Day knows how to read between the lines.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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