For the record, I know Brownies. I’ve even cheered for the Browns— for eleven years (1984-95) I suffered with their fans, attended games in the Mistake by the Lake, met Bernie Kosar and Ozzie Newsome in a Brown’s chapel service before a game, and in general came to understand the angst of pro football fans in Northeast Ohio. I’ve seen dog pound, disappointment and disaster all play out like Oedipus Rex by the lake. It’s been too long since Cleveland has won anything at all (other than having the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame installed there), and on top of that, they have had to suffer the indignity of having Art Modell steal their team, leaving town under the cover of darkness for Baltimore, and then have that team, with Newsome’s guidance win Super Bowls. That friends, is just wrong in seven languages. But that is also professional sports as well. It’s ruthless, and sometimes its toothless too, especially in a violent game like pro football.
Enter the movie Draft Day, starring our old sports-loving friend— Kevin Costner. Costner has made a lot of good sports films (Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, Tin Cup, For the Love of the Game), but none of them football movies. In fact, I would say there are no great professional football movies that are not comedies— none. Well today I can say there is one— Draft Day is just excellent in a lot of ways. Kevin Costner gives one of his best performances ever, Frank Langela is fabulous as the grouchy, greedy, glory grabbing owner, Jennifer Garner is alright as the girl friend, Ellen Burstyn better as the Mom, and while you should be leery of Denis Leary (he always plays himself), he does a passable job as the coach.
Here’s an oddity about this film. It shows not one single whole NFL play. It shows some college footage, but no NFL footage at all. This is passing strange in a film finally sanctioned by the NFL, over-hyped by ESPN (who unfortunately has turned hyping the NFL 365 days a year into an art form— for a sport that only encompasses September through January), and with cameo appearances by Commissioner Goddell and the omni-present Chris Berman.
Never mind all that, this movie is about making the right choices on Draft Day so that your team has a future, even a hope of making the playoffs. Drafting football players a crap shoot, and it takes all the wisdom of Solomon, all the analysis of human personalities of Sigmund Freud, and all the guts of a cat burglar to do it right. No joke. America is littered with unemployed football G.M.s muttering “the saddest words of tongue and pen, what might have been what might have been”.
This movie has excellent pace, and at an hour and 50 minutes it is like a sleek svelte Porsche humming down the highway, with no wrong turns along the way. It is Kevin Costner’s film to inhabit, and he throws himself into the role, heart and soul, taking up about 80% of the face time of the film. From the start the story and the plot is on the clock, which keeps ticking, ticking, ticking ‘into the future’ (as Steve Miller once sang). There is plenty of tension in the film, as Sonny Weaver, the G.M. who fired his own father as coach of the Browns (albeit to save his father’s last remaining years of life) must get this draft absolutely right, or face being out of a job in only his second year as a G.M.
The story is entirely about the behind the scenes wheeling and dealing before and during Draft Day, and how to get it right, and how to get it wrong. If there is a subliminal message it is—- pick someone who has the right character to lead and guide a football team. And Sonny must figure that out before the clock runs out.
His boss is ready to fire him when he passes on what seems to be the sure fire No. 1, his mother is furious with him for ‘trading a giant for magic beans’, his girl friend is in a tiff because he doesn’t listen, and his coach hates him because he thinks he will trade a very servicable quarterback who runs the right system. He can’t catch a break and the pressure is so great he is ready to crack. You can feel the tension in the various rooms, cars, sidelines he inhabits up until the picks are made.
Even if one was not a football fan (and interestingly, there were a lot of older women in the theater when I saw the film today, on its opening day), this film is a fun thrill ride right to the end. It has no violence, only a few off color words, no sex, and a lot of fun. It’s well done if you are any kind of sports fan. I would call this the first summer popcorn film really worth seeing. Skip Captain America, and see this one. It’s an all American film. And Kevin Costner is an All American kind of guy, who actually played sports himself.