By Leonard Maltin | Leonard Maltin April 11, 2014 at 12:06AM
If you read
an outline of Draft Day it might
strike you as formulaic and overlong, because it is…yet somehow it still works.
Director Ivan Reitman—the same man who gave us Ghostbusters thirty years ago—steers an expert cast through its
paces, with Kevin Costner in a tailor-made leading role. The actor has had good
luck with sports stories dating back to Bull
Durham and Field of Dreams, and
this one continues his overall winning streak in the genre.
Costner plays the much-abused general manager of the Cleveland Browns whose standing with fans and continued employment are in jeopardy on the day of the NFL draft pick. His father, a beloved coach, has just died, and his girlfriend (Jennifer Garner), who happens to work in the same office, has just told him she’s pregnant.
A hot young quarterback seems to be the best bet for him to acquire—with the encouragement of his egotistic boss (Frank Langella)—but despite positive reports and the urging of his colleagues in the team’s war room, he has misgivings. He’d like to go with his gut, but that could cost him his job and his reputation. Once the draft clock starts ticking in New York City, he’s under the gun...and through it all, he’s trying to make up with Garner for not responding well to her ill-timed baby news.
Draft Day plays to the choir of football fans, with majestic aerial shots of various team stadiums and cameo appearances by sportscasters and real-life gridiron figures, including the commissioner of the NFL. Like Moneyball, the screenplay by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph takes us behind the scenes to show the gamesmanship that goes on between g.m.s as they dicker over trades and try to outfox each other. But the real tension here is whether or not Costner can come out on top while dealing with a laundry list of problems, from a recalcitrant coach (Denis Leary) to an embittered mother (Ellen Burstyn). It all comes together in a resounding—if not always credible—final showdown. Real life may not play out like this, but movies do, and this finale is bound to be a crowd-pleaser.
A clever visual device designed by Jenny Smith and Gareth Lee sparks the movie with fluid split-screens, the likes of which we haven’t seen before. They transform Costner’s frequent phone calls into arresting sequences that keep our eyes busy while we’re absorbing story points and information.
Draft Day is a slick piece of entertainment that smoothes over most of its shortcomings with the help of a first-rate movie-star performance.