I didn’t know that so very, very little could actually happen in a major motion picture until I met Draft Day. This is a film whose one big draw – negotiating action at the NFL Draft! – goes down in just a few minutes at the beginning and ten minutes at the end. Sandwiched between is an agonizing stretch of boredom, hemming and hawing and all other manner of filler material.
Kevin Costner plays Sammy Weaver Jr., the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. With the draft approaching, he’s supposed to be the underdog, despite being the inheritor of a storied franchise from his own father. Because this is the high-powered world of millionaires, the beneficiary of naked nepotism is an underdog. Go figure. Anyway, Sammy finagles the number one pick by giving another team the Browns’s first picks for the next three years. This poises him to pick up the sparkly wonderboy of the season, but as the day goes on and the draft draws nearer, he experiences doubts about the wonderboy’s promise and whether he was worth the trade.
That is, by the way, the extent of the plot. Costner worries whether this one action he takes at the start of the film was a good one. He talks to the team’s owner (Frank Langella) about it. He talks to the coach (Denis Leary) about it. He talks to a financial manager / his girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) about it. He even talks to his mother (Ellen Burstyn) about it. Talk, talk, talk, very little action.
Director Ivan Reitman, cinematographer Eric Steelberg, and editors Dana Glauberman and Sheldon Kahn do their darndest to enliven all this yammering. They deploy frequent use of split screens, during which the conversating characters will cross over the line dividing the frame. Or someone will walk across our view, superimposed in front of whoever’s on the other end of the line. It’s supposed to be visually distinct. Instead it is just never not massively distracting.
All of this talk is somehow supposed to come around to how Sammy just isn’t that great a guy. He doesn’t want to commit to his pregnant girlfriend. He has trouble being nice to his colleagues. He won’t cooperate with his mother’s wish to spread his recently-deceased father’s ashes over a practice field, because he’s just too busy working, dammit. Can Sammy possibly learn the value of a warm human heart, and could this somehow dovetail with a way to save the day and get some good draft picks? It does, although how makes no sense at all. The best I can figure is that, because Sammy triumphs, he magically becomes a better person. Football is curative, people.
What’s a shame is that, for ten cool minutes at the end, the movie actually becomes reasonably exciting. There’s lots of rapid talk and back-and-forth negotiations and standoffs and ticking clocks and tense pauses. Imagine a version of this movie where most of the action was actually devoted to, you know, the draft. Judging from what we have, that would have been a fun enough movie, even if you’re an ignoramus towards all things football, as I am. We don’t need Kevin Costner to learn life lessons. Just let him haggle over young men as if they are cattle so that he can satisfy millions of raving fans and the whims of his corporate overlords.
Draft Day wastes your time the way it wastes the acting talents of all involved. That’s a talent pool that includes, besides the aforementioned actors: Sam Elliot, Rosanna Arquette, Terry Crews, Chadwick Boseman, and Chi McBride. And Tom Welling is there too, but whatever. There’s also a bunch of sports people who show up as themselves, but I don’t know them. The only thing that intrigued me about the movie was the reaction that a few people in my audience had to it. Whenever a famous moment from sports history got a namecheck in the film, the replied with cheers, or general noises of affirmation. It’s a movie that aims to be just as much about the mythology of sports as it is about the nitty-gritty backroom deals that make its institutions grind ahead. Judging from my fellow theater viewers, it might have succeeded in that respect. Otherwise, it is a nothing film.