On the day of the NFL Draft, general manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner) has the opportunity to save football in Cleveland when he trades for the number one pick. He must quickly decide what he's willing to sacrifice in pursuit of perfection as the lines between his personal and professional life become blurred on a life-changing day for a few hundred young men with dreams of playing in the NFL.
'Draft Day' is a football movie that seems to want to cross Moneyball with Jerry Maguire, but is never really able to move the ball down the field. One of the big mistakes here is doing for drama over comedy, as the movie would probably be better if it were less serious about itself, but the humorous moments prove few and far between. Another issue (which we'll get to later in this review) is that the screenplay is set up in a way that characters are constantly talking on the phone to each other…a lot. Yes, this is no doubt an accurate reflection of Draft Day in the National Football League, but it sure doesn't transfer well to the big screen.
The movie stars Kevin Costner as Sonny Weaver, Jr., the general manager of the NFL's Cleveland Browns (the "Jr." being important here, as Sonny's dad – now deceased – was the former coach of the Browns…until Sonny fired him). The entire movie takes place on the day of the NFL Draft, where Sonny hopes to nab a quality defensive player he's had his eyes on with the Browns first pick, which is seventh overall. However, the team with the number one pick – the Seattle Seahawks – hope to deal Sonny their top pick and get some of the Browns future number one picks in return (in addition to their seventh overall pick this year). The Browns are bad enough and Sonny's job status with the team's owner (played by Frank Langella) is unsure enough to make Sonny jump at the chance. However, he starts to suspect that the top prospect in the draft – Quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence) – may not be as quality of a person off the field as he is on the field.
Sonny's got a few more problems to deal with than just a tenuous job status and a demanding owner – he's also got a pregnant girlfriend (Jennifer Garner) who doesn't like the fact that Sonny's hiding their relationship from their co-workers, a head coach (Denis Leary) who thinks Sonny is making all the wrong draft moves, and an angry team quarterback (Tom Welling) who thinks the team is about to make him a second stringer. Some of Costner's best roles have been when he's playing an imperfect and bull-headed character (see 'Tin Cup'), and there's a sense of that here, although Sonny never crosses the line to becoming unlikable. It's a good performance in a movie that I think is still rather lackluster.
A big problem with the movie is the premise itself. While Draft Day has become a rather big event among die-hard fans of the NFL, a fictionalized draft is hardly the ingredients for a blockbuster film. As noted above, about 50 percent of this movie consists of people talking on the phone to one another. Director Ivan Reitman tries to make such scenes more visually interesting by using a split-screen method in which parts of the actors can cross over to the other side of the line separating them (see our second screenshot featuring Sam Elliott and Costner) – but it's just a technical gimmick that gets old very quick and is overused to the point of distraction in 'Draft Day'.
In fact, I think 'Draft Day' is one of the poorer directorial efforts by Ivan Reitman in his career. This is one of his only movies that can be strictly labeled as a drama, yet he still directs the film as if he's helming a comedy. Although Reitman has chosen to shoot in the 2:40:1 aspect ratio, the movie still feels very 'small', despite the opened-up ratio. The wider look does nothing for the film itself, and this is one of the few movies I've watched where I actually found myself thinking that the movie would have looked better if done at a different aspect ratio (in this case, 1.85:1 would have served the film much better). Reitman's cinematographer Eric Steelberg is pretty lazy with the camera as well here, and other than his flashy split screens, there's little of note from a cinematic standpoint (as I've noted elsewhere in this review, the movie looks like it was made for cable…or even network…TV).
Yet, despite my many problems with the screenplay and direction, 'Draft Day' remains a quite watchable movie, and that's primarily due to the acting, particularly by star Kevin Costner. Costner has been making some smart movie role choices over the last several years and has returned to playing the rather likeable characters he was noted for in the late 80s and early 90s. He's appealing here once again playing Sonny, despite some noticeable character flaws. Kudos need to go out to Denis Leary as well for his role – he takes a character who could have very easily been one of the antagonists in this piece and makes him a well-rounded person. He's often at odds with Costner's character, but Leary plays him in such a way that he never comes off as the black hat. Jennifer Garner, on the other hand, gets the thankless role – playing a love interest that the movie doesn't need and probably would have been better without. She's fine given what she has to do (which isn't much), but you wish the story would have made her character more interesting or just nixed her from the script altogether.
There are also a huge number of cameos in 'Draft Day' (which obviously worked closely with both the NFL and ESPN) from both real-life NFL personalities as well as familiar character actors in brief roles. These add an element of both realism and fun to the movie, but I'm not sure they make 'Draft Day' a better film. As you'd suspect, many of the real-life cameos are by people who have little, if any, acting talent, so their appearances have the effect of both adding and detracting from the movie at the same time. Roger Goodell, don't quit your day job.
Finally, there's a bit of preachiness to 'Draft Day' that I found unrealistic. Without ruining the storyline, the movie tries to send the message that when it comes to drafting an NFL player, personality and morality should play a bigger role than on-the-field talent. Sadly, anyone who's watched professional sports knows that's a big load of hooey. As much as the NFL or any other professional sports organization will claim that character counts, we all know that the bottom line is how the player performs on the field of play. The idea that any team would take a less talented player over a super-talented one just because he might not be the best teammate is, honestly, a laughable notion in today's day and age.
If you're not a football fan, there probably isn't much in 'Draft Day' you're going to find interesting, and, in fact, you may find the draft process of the movie quite confusing (despite the film's efforts to explain things as it moves along). On the other hand, if you're a dyed-in-the-wool NFL fanatic, you should enjoy the movie enough for at least one viewing. Despite the many flaws, the actors make this one worth a look.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Draft Day' signs onto home video in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo pack. The discs are housed in an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, with the DVD on the inside left and the 50GB dual-layer Blu-ray on the inside right. The case also includes an insert containing a code for an UltraViolet and iTunes copy of the movie. A slipcover matching the artwork of the keepcase's slick slides overtop.
Both the Blu-ray and the DVD are front-loaded with trailers for Cesar Chavez, Houdini, the Dinesh D'Souza political documentary 'America', and The Expendables 3. The Blu-ray is also front-loaded with a trailer for Life of Crime, which does not appear on the DVD. The main menu of both the DVD and Blu-ray consist of a montage of images from the movie (using the screen-swipe method that the film does), with menu selections running across the bottom of the screen.
This Blu-ray is Region A locked.
'Draft Day' was shot digitally using primarily Arri Alexa Plus cameras, and boy does it show. I've seen other movies shot using Arri Alexa equipment that come off pretty nicely, but 'Draft Day's image could never be mistaken for film, and comes off looking very much like a made-for-cable movie instead of a major motion picture. Of course, that problem lies with the filmmakers themselves, and isn't a fault of this transfer, which does a good job of rendering its HD image.
The sharpness and level of detail in the image here shouldn't disappoint, as the backgrounds of most shots have a razor-like precision to them that provides most scenes with a lot of 'pop'. There aren't a great deal of close-ups in the movie, but when there are, facial features are nicely defined, with every crease and wrinkle in both stars Kevin Costner and Denis Leary's faces evident. There's a lot of color to the film as well, which thankfully never comes off as oversaturated. While whites come off as a little too glary and bright for my tastes (again, a director's/cinematographer's choice rather than a fault with the transfer), black levels are nice and inky, which is helpful once the movie switches to the somewhat darker scenes of the NFL Draft.
I also detected no noticeable glitches to the image, such as aliasing, haloing, banding, edge enhancement, or the like. While I had problems with how the movie was shot, there's no denying that this is a very good rendition of the filmmaker's intent and an excellent HD transfer.
The primary audio track here is a English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, that is more than enough for this movie's needs – as it's primarily a 'talking heads' motion picture (in more ways than you'd guess, as – as noted in my review – a huge chunk of the movie involves characters talking on the phone to one another). Dialogue is crisp and clear throughout, and primarily front and center – although occasionally we'll hear a voice or voices thrown towards a rear speaker just to provide the track some directionality and separation.
While there's virtually no low-end use in the track, there is some noticeable usage of the surround (rear) speakers, although those moments seem few and far between. I never felt a sense of immersiveness in the audio, but it seems to more than serve the needs of the film, and there's nothing in terms of glitches (such as drop outs or improper balance) to note.
The only other audio option (other than the commentary track) is a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Subtitles are available in English SDH, English, and Spanish.
'Draft Day' is a movie with some notable flaws in both the way the screenplay is written, as well as in the way it has been directed. However, despite these problems, the acting here is noteworthy and watchable, thanks in large part to star Kevin Costner. Still, this is a movie that's probably going to appeal only to fans of football and, in particular, the NFL. It's probably not worth a purchase, but it's still worth a viewing.