Should I Watch..? 'Draft Day' (2014)
What's the big deal?
Draft Day is a sports drama film released in 2014 and is heavily based around the Cleveland Browns NFL team. The film portrays the fictional general manager, Sonny Weaver Jr., making decisions leading up to the draft which will affect not just the team but his coaching staff and his loved ones as well. Almost all of its gross came from within the US, obviously due to the limited worldwide appeal of American Football beyond its borders. But the sport is not only trying to expand but also deal with a large amount of negative press at the moment. Off-field scandals like the Adrian Peterson case fight for front-page news status with the on-going debates about chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE and its long-term impacts on the health of players. It's not impossible to believe that the NFL might have needed a positive boost in the face of such dramas and what better way to get one than with a movie?
What's it about?
Before the start of the regular NFL season, hundreds of eager college players meet up in New York City for the annual NFL Draft - a grand occasion where all the teams pick which players they want playing for them. For Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver Jr., it couldn't have come at a worse time. The week before, his father who was a legendary Browns coach in his own right, passed away and he also recently learned that his secret girlfriend Ali - the Browns' salary cap analyst - is pregnant. Weaver is under pressure to revitalise the team, especially from team owner Anthony Molina who wants Weaver to draft the presumed number one pick in the draft, Wisconsin quarterback and future star Bo Callahan.
Then out of the blue, Weaver is contacted by Seattle Seahawks general manager Tom Michaels who offers weaver the very first pick of the draft, effectively securing Callahan for the team. The price? The Browns first draft picks for the next three years. Reluctantly, Weaver agrees and the Browns fans start going crazy upon hearing the rumours. But Weaver remains unconvinced by Callahan - his coach Vince Penn doesn't need a rookie quarterback with the ever-loyal Brian Drew already in the position. What exactly will Weaver do come Draft Day - will he go with Callahan or does he have something else up his sleeve?
What's to like?
Even trying to follow the sport from across the Atlantic, the NFL isn't the most easily scrutinised of sports. The draft is something barely acknowledged over here in the UK, probably because there is no coverage of college football whatsoever. So it's interesting to catch a glimpse behind the scenes, particularly the front office which will often rarely be seen come game day but take the credit when they win. I'm under no illusion that the movie is anything like real life - everything feels too clean and sanitised - but the seal of approval from the NFL certainly helps. Team logos and colours are in almost every shot while the coverage of the draft is filled with the actual broadcasters commentating on events in the movie. Despite the rosy specs, it has a ring of truth about it - especially considering how the actual Browns dealt their way to securing Johnny Manziel in 2014's real Draft.
Costner, of course, can play these type of roles in his sleep and he does a good job as Weaver, juggling the phones between other general managers and trying to get the best result for everyone. The dialogue is both clunky but informative, keeping the viewer up-to-date with what's going on in this rarely-seen world and Reitman even finds time to inject a little humour into the film - Leary, Garner and Newman as the intern all have little comic moments that break up the tension of the War Room. It is a well-made and entertaining movie and not just one for NFL fans like me.
- The movie was originally going to feature the Buffalo Bills but the shooting costs in Ohio were cheaper so the Cleveland Browns were chosen instead.
- Three of the actors have a connection with Superman. Costner appeared in Man Of Steel, Welling played Clark Kent in the TV show Smallville and Langella appeared in Superman Returns.
- The screenplay was on a script 'blacklist' in 2012 of the most liked unmade films of that year.
What's not to like?
Frankly, it feels too sanitised. Compared to the likes of other football-based films like Any Given Sunday, the film feels about as fake and believable as plastic fruit. Despite the large number of cameos from the likes of Commissioner Roger Goodell, Deion Sanders, Ray Lewis, Jim Brown and many more, it just feels like the NFL themselves edited the picture to turn what has traditionally been portrayed as a brutal and macho sport into a fairy-tale where dreams come true. I don't believe for a minute that managers like Weaver exist - there's too much money at stake for one's personal moral compass to have any bearing, for one. Granted, the film shows what pressures general managers are under but is anyone really buying this tosh?
The reason this lovey-dovey picture of American Football troubles me is really quite simple. Think of the number of scandals to hit the sport in recent years - Peterson, Ray Rice's publicised domestic abuse, the shocking number of suicides committed by players young and old, Aaron Hernandez's conviction for murder plus the multi-billion dollar lawsuit filed by the families of current and former players affected by years of being hit repeatedly in the head by incredibly strong athletes. We are only just beginning to understand the implications of sports-based head injuries and few sports have as much contact as American football. I have no proof to suggest that the NFL deliberately got involved in this production and made changes to the screenplay or oversaw the editing. But I find difficult to believe that they didn't - after all, given the amount of product placement, it's inevitable that they were aware of the film at the very least.
Should I watch it?
NFL fans will enjoy this movie for what it is - a light and well-made movie about a side of the game that we rarely get to witness. Enemies of the sport or anyone not interested in American Football will wonder what the fuss is about - it's not that memorable as a drama and certainly not as realistic as previous films on the subject have suggested. But for once, the cynic fails to overrule the head - I enjoyed the movie and you can't say fairer than that.
Great For: NFL fans, the NFL itself
Not So Great For: people not interested in American Football, cynics, Cleveland Browns fan who wished Weaver was their GM (and Manziel was as good as he said he was)
What else should I watch?
There are a handful of films based around the sport of American Football, none more so than Any Given Sunday which is a typical Oliver Stone production - unflinching in its brutality and realism. But it lacks the authenticity of Draft Day as it based on a fictional team (the Miami Sharks, as I recall) and it never quite rings true. It's also not exactly what you'd call fun whereas The Longest Yard remake with Adam Sandler is played much more for laughs. Hell, even my wife enjoyed that film and she doesn't know the first thing about the sport. Lastly, there is an obscure film with George Clooney that I'm convinced everybody missed - Leatherheads is an off-beat romantic comedy based around the early days of the sport, before it became professional and swimming in money. If you can find it, it's an interesting watch especially if you love the history of the sport.
Sonny Weaver Jr.
Coach Vince Penn
Rick The Intern
Scott Rothman & Rajiv Joseph
Release Date (UK)
3rd October, 2014
© 2015 Benjamin Cox