The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Draft Day

Reviewing movies pertaining to football is always an interesting experience. You could fit what I know about the sport onto the head of a pin and still have room left over. Football was on in my house growing up, but I always viewed watching a game as a waste of time since I could be watching movies instead. Time and experience have taught me a great lesson, though, which is that the best sports movies aren't really about sports at all. Draft Day is a great example of this. While it deals with the NFL draft, this is really a movie about strategy, about using psychology to get a competitive edge. Football fans will surely understand all the little subtleties in the story, but even non-fans can enjoy the film's drama.

Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. He is tasked by the team's owner, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), to “make a splash” with his picks. Specifically, Molina wants him to pick Heisman winner Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), a quarterback widely considered to be the big prize in the draft. Sonny's in a position to do so, having just made a risky trade with the Seattle Seahawks' GM in exchange for the first pick. The problem is that Sonny also has his sights on another player, Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman). He's also got a QB (Tom Welling) who doesn't want to lose his job, plus a coach (Denis Leary) who doesn't like any of the choices he's making. Compounding it all is that Sonny has impregnated one of his executives, Ali (Jennifer Garner), and is experiencing uncertainty about being a father at his age.

The way Draft Day depicts the machinations of the NFL draft is fascinating. Sonny makes trade after trade, hoping to navigate his way into a better position. Sometimes his trades pay off, sometimes they don't. When they don't, he needs to find a way to scheme himself back into place. And, of course, everyone around him has an opinion, which at times clouds his own gut instinct. Added to that is a nagging doubt about Callahan, who appears perfect on the surface. Draft Day shows all the pressures that go into the annual draft and how they combine to make player selection a complicated, stressful process. Perhaps most entertaining is the way the movie shows Sonny pulling out some last-minute negotiations when things look especially dire. He realizes it's time to do whatever it takes to get the edge, so every psychological trick he knows comes out.

Director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters) uses an effective technique for capturing the madness when Sonny is on the phone with a GM in another city, engaging in high-stakes wheeling and dealing. He shoots those sections of the film in split screen, with the images occasionally moving back and forth, or the characters on one side bleeding over onto the other. This keeps the phone call scenes from becoming static, giving them a sense of urgency. Reitman also makes every effort to create a feeling of authenticity, peppering the movie with notable cameos, working with the NFL to maintain accuracy, and shooting on real locations in various cities across the country. That attention to detail makes a world of difference, creating an atmosphere where you can really get sucked into the story.

This is the kind of role that Kevin Costner just owns. Few actors are as good at portraying morally conflicted characters as he. Sonny Weaver is dealing with a crisis of conscience. Does he do what he really believes is best for the team in the long run, or does he cave into what the fans (and the owner) want by making showy, short-term picks? Costner wrings every last ounce of conflict from the character, and when Sonny ultimately makes his decisions, we understand them because the actor has so fully convinced us. All the supporting players are good, too, but this is doubtlessly Costner's show.

Draft Day contains a few too many personal mini-dramas it doesn't have time to fully play out, including Sonny's complicated relationship with his mother (Ellen Burstyn) and the whole pregnancy issue. Scaling back some of that would have given the film an even sharper focus, as would further development of Ray Jennings (Arian Foster), a third player in the mix. Still, Draft Day is a very enjoyable and engaging examination of a man working in a pressure cooker, as well as the strategic planning that keeps him in the game. It's a lot of fun, even if you don't give a hoot about football.

( out of four)

Draft Day is rated PG-13 for brief strong language and sexual references. The running time is 1 hour and 49 minutes.

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