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Thursday, April 17, 2014 12:01 am

Costner saves Day

Kevin Costner as Sonny Weaver in Draft Day.

 

It’s apparent from the start that director Ivan Reitman wants Draft Day to be to the NFL what Moneyball was to the MLB. For a while, the film succeeds in that. It is a no-nonsense, behind-the-scenes look at how a major sports franchise is run and an examination of the personalities needed to make it a success. As we see Sonny Weaver (a never-better Kevin Costner), the beleaguered general manager of the Cleveland Browns, attempt to come to terms with how to improve his team on the most important day of his career, the film is as riveting as a sports drama can get. Unfortunately, when the movie strays away from the boardrooms where the future of professional football teams are determined, Draft gets bogged down by so many needless subplots and ridiculous circumstances that the whole enterprise is nearly thrown for a loss.

Draft day has become a sort of late Christmas for NFL teams. Over the past decade, the process has become a media, fan-friendly event that, much like the Super Bowl, often fails to live up to the hype. However, there’s no question that the destiny of the 32 teams involved can be radically impacted by the amateur players they choose to become pros. It’s a pressure cooker, one that organizations spend months preparing for, and any unpredictable move from a team that chooses before you can scuttle the best laid plans. This is the day Weaver lives for. He thrives on the pressure though he knows the danger of deals made on impulse or in desperation. The owner of the long-suffering Browns, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella), sticks his nose in where it doesn’t belong, insisting that Weaver make a splash with his first-round pick, while Coach Penn (Denis Leary) proves difficult when he’s kept out of the loop where the GM’s plan is concerned. Adding to Weaver’s troubles is the fact that each of his top three choices have character flaws that worry him mightily. He feels their negative traits may hurt their performance on the field.

These elements of the plot are handled with a sense of urgency and import that makes for good drama and Costner anchors it throughout. Weary, worried, looking as though he may crumble at any moment, the actor conveys the pressure Weaver is contending with in such a convincing way, the viewer is simply waiting for him to crack up on screen. That’s not to say he’s a nervous wreck throughout – far from it as he comes to rally and respond to the pressure like the seasoned NFL veteran he is. This is a reflection of Costner’s career as of late as he’s proven a reliable presence in supporting roles (Man of Steel, Jack Ryan) and the lead in a criminally overlooked thriller (3 Days to Kill). Without the actor providing a solid center, the film would likely have spun out of control.

The reason why is that screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph burdened the film with ludicrous subplots that serve no other purpose than to take us away from the main action of the movie and make us question the sanity of its characters. Weaver is romantically linked with a fellow Browns executive Ali (Jennifer Garner), a self-proclaimed football junkie who can rattle off NFL minutiae with the best of them. However, on the most important day of her partner’s professional career, she decides to tell him they’re expecting a baby. I ask you, wouldn’t a woman who is well aware of the stakes of the draft perhaps wait one more day to give Weaver this piece of news, so as not to add undue pressure to him? But it doesn’t end there. Later in the day, the GM’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) stops by, insisting that the ashes of her recently deceased husband – the former head coach of the Browns and Weaver’s father mind you – be scattered on the practice field named after him. This woman is aware of the stakes at hand and to suggest she would do this to her son at this moment is just plain stupid.

It’s plotting such as this that bothers me most. The screenwriters think we’re dumb enough to accept this as logical behavior. It seems as though Reitman is attempting to pull elements from two opposing playbooks and run them at the same time. This is a recipe for disaster. But make no mistake, when Draft concentrates on the wheeling and dealing of professional football, the film cooks, especially during its third act when tables are turned and gridiron fortunes are lost and won. These moments and Costner’s fine work help the film go down as a win with little to spare.

Contact Chuck Koplinski at ckoplinski@usd116.org.

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