by George Sax
Buffalo Bills President Russ Brandon has a bit in Ivan Reitman’s new football pic, Draft Day. He plays the president of the Bills and gets two lines. I thought he was pretty convincing, although it is sort of typecasting. I do realize that there are disgruntled fans who may suggest that the part is a bit of a stretch for Brandon, but you’ll get no such cynical snark here.
Reitman’s movie is primarily about the NFL draft, whose shifting, inter-related components I understand about as well as I grasp the obscure details of Olympic ice dancing and Wall Street’s credit-default swaps. Which is practically not at all.
The story circulating in these parts is that Reitman wanted to make Draft Day in Buffalo, but didn’t because New York wouldn’t match Ohio’s financial incentives for the production. This may be true, but doing it here would probably have required a significantly different script. As it is, a low-key, fairly convincing Kevin Costner is cast as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. Costner’s Sonny Weaver faces severe professional and personal challenges throughout one long day as he sweats out whether to make the deal the team’s demanding owner (a smoothly scene-dominating Frank Langella) wants. He also has to negotiate with his lover (Jennifer Garner), a situation complicated by her position as the organization’s legal and salary cap expert. Their interactions are intended as a romantic, human interest counterpoint to the complex draft calculations and horse trading, but they come off as too low-energy and hackneyed. So does a draggy, pointless side story about Sonny’s mother (a spirited but wasted Ellen Burstyn) and his late father, once the Browns’ coach.
The movie’s rather lumpy script suggests writers who were knowledgeable about football but less comfortable with the demands of deft, involving melodrama. Draft Day does work up what seemed to this non-initiate to be a moderately clever plot elaboration and resolution when it focused on the NFL draft and Sonny’s predicament. He is portrayed as engaging in a kind of NFL liar’s poker, and Reitman keeps up the pace and tension.
But not necessarily the plausibility. It’s a little hard to believe Sonny’s NFL peers could be caught short or manipulated by his last-minute maneuvers, but there’s a pop satisfaction to these proceedings.
There’s also a dose of ethical uplift as character becomes an emphasis. This is probably another kind of fantasy football. The name Michael Vick may ring a bell. Or, from a very recent incident, the Eagles’ Riley Cooper. The examples are unhappily numerous.
Reitman’s direction also includes a gimmicky use of shifting, overlapping split screens, which has a cartoonish effect. I hope I’m wrong, but I sense an incipient fashion.
Watch the trailer for Draft Day
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