The message behind “Draft Day,” Kevin Costner’s last sports flick, is that technical ability is one thing, but having heart is just as important. It’s a key message for the story but also vital when considering the movie as a whole.
This film is technically proficient, but loads of technically proficient flicks aren’t as entertaining as this one. This movie works particularly well because it has heart, just like the players that Kevin Costner’s character recruits for his football team.
On the day of the NFL Draft, Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr. (Costner) is faced with some tough choices. His team is not doing well, sports radio talking heads are beating him up for ruining the franchise his late father, the legendary coach Sonny Weaver Sr, built up and his girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) is angry with him. His future and possibly the future of the team hinges on one deal; a massive trade for hotshot quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence).
Like “Moneyball,” “Draft Day” scores authenticity points by casting a number of sports figures and insiders playing themselves. Cleveland Browns Center Alex Mack appears as does San Francisco 49ers defensive player Delon Sanders, but it’s the supporting cast of professional actors who really score a touchdown.
Frank Langella, playing the anything-for-a-buck owner of the Browns plus Ellen Burstyn and Dennis Leary as Sonny’s mother and grumpy coach respectively, are all great. Sean Combs as a smarmy sports agant didn’t even bother me. But of course, this really is Kevin Costner’s movie. He’s easy to watch at the best of times but particularly so when he’s in the genre that works best for him, and that’s sports movies.
He plays Weaver much differently than Brad Pitt handled real life manager Billy Beane in “Moneyball.” Unlike Beane, who used an algorithm to put a team together, Weaver works on a combo of instinct, experience and guts, which makes for an all round more emotional trip for him and the audience. “There’s no such thing as a ‘sure thing,”” the movie tells us. “All that matters is your gut.”
Story wise this is a pure sports film, complete with lingo and all kinds of stats, but it’s also a mystery. As Weaver digs into Callahan’s past, questions arise, leaving the movie’s central bit of action—will Weaver draft Callahan or not—up in the air until the closing minutes of the movie. It’s not Hitchcock, but it will keep you guessing.
Sports illiterates might need subtitles to understand some of the goings on. For me it didn’t matter if I followed the intricacies of the trades because the underlying emotion that comes along with changing someone’s life by drafting them into the NFL is very powerful and well played here.