Film review: Kevin Costner plays ball with the NFL

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Draft Day, starring Kevin Costner, follows the administrative wheeling and dealing required to build a competitive team in the NFL. Draft Day, starring Kevin Costner, follows the administrative wheeling and dealing required to build a competitive team in the NFL.

What’s with all the Kevin Costner movies lately? In the past 12 months he’s appeared in Man of Steel, Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, and 3 Days to Kill. Given the quality of these movies, maybe he should have stayed semi-retired.

It’s not like the movies he made beforehand were much better, but at least his pre-2013 work had slowed to a crawl. One shitty movie a year is better than four shitty movies in one year, which brings us to Draft Day, an overlong NFL commercial that is nonetheless kind of charming in its stupidity and its aw-shucks love of football.

That’s not to say it doesn’t know football is a business; Draft Day is called Draft Day and not Football Rules!, and it’s all about buying and selling professional athletes, much like Moneyball is about the money and statistics of baseball. In other words, there’s no actual football here, just a lot of rich white guys vying for prospects who will soon be rich if they remain injury-free.

Costner is Sonny Weaver Jr., the Cleveland Browns general manager and the guy in charge of draft picks. Except he isn’t in charge. The team owner, Anthony (Frank Langella, who you’d think would be better as the heavy), wants Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), a hotshot quarterback who’s bound to be the first pick in the first round, but there’s no way the Browns can get him because they have seventh pick. Plus, the head coach (Denis Leary) wants a bigger say than he has.

Enter the wheeling and dealing. The Seattle Seahawks general manager, Tom Michaels (Patrick St. Esprit), calls Sonny up with a terrible deal and Sonny takes it. He doesn’t want the deal and Michaels is a prick. (How do you know he’s a prick? Because he eats food loudly on the phone and tells you he’s eating.)

The pawns in all the wheeling and dealing are Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman), an outside linebacker Sonny wants, running back Ray Jennings (Arian Foster), oft-injured Browns quarterback Brian Drew (Tom Welling), and the Browns’ salary cap executive, Ali (Jennifer Garner, who’s always game despite being relegated to second fiddle roles like this). And don’t forget Sonny’s dead father, the former Browns head coach, whose shadow still looms large. There’s always a dead father.

How does it all shake out? Well, duh. This is a sports movie starring Kevin Costner. If you can’t guess, you haven’t seen many sports movies. But despite Draft Day’s overcomplicated premise and easy-to-grasp machinations, it’s highly watchable. Costner is at his best in sports tales, and he displays grit, determination, and wit that are missing from most of his other work.

Director Ivan Reitman (?!!) does his best to suck the air out of the movie—there are seemingly endless establishing shots of various team cities that must have been a condition of NFL permissions—and there’s a clunky split screen/moving screen editing trick that keeps popping up whenever someone’s on the phone. But when all the old white men are yelling at each other, it kind of works.

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