Yes, Draft Day is first and foremost a commercial for the upcoming draft and the NFL brand. Nothing new by Hollywood standards, they’ve been producing movies as toy commercials for decades. Any Pixar, Marvel or Transformers movie are all designed to sell merchandise and push corporate brands further into the social conscious. After Transformers 3 was released, executives biggest complaint was it didn’t sell enough toys.
The film is part of a new trend of sports movies that don’t focus on the conventional ‘Disney’ formula of mythical players or remarkable teams, but more the behind the scenes process of professional franchises, in particular the acquiring and collection of talent. A mania that transcends to die-hard sports fans, over the last decade the internet has allowed fans more insight and access to information ultimately becoming smarter fans. There has been a shift that the transaction has become more exciting than the actual games themselves.
This leads to the main theme in Draft Day, the celebration of hope. Which is all the NFL draft is. No one really knows if a player's skills are going to transfer from college to the pros (no one bats 100%), the ‘experts’ analyze glutinous amounts of data and lay out their best predictions, but as every sports fan knows...its just speculation. It isn’t even a pattern anymore, its a routine. Whether its new ownership, new GM, new coach - selling hope to fans is the most powerful thing a franchise can do.
In Draft Day, Cleveland Browns GM Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) must decide how he wants to rebuild his struggling franchise, follow his gut or draft the Heisman winning sure-thing QB. Nothing new for football fans, the NFL draft system builds in parody by giving the team with the worst record the first pick the next year. Ideally that first pick is transformative and helps resurrect a franchise - it doesn’t always work Jags, Browns, Bills & Raiders’ fans would agree.
One of the stand out features was the realism and production quality in the movie, its staggering; parties involved went out of their way (with complete and unprecedented NFL cooperation) to make everything look just as it will when Roger Goodell walks out onto the stage in May - likely with more booooo’s than he got in the film.
The compromise of having unparalleled cooperation with a multi-billion dollar corporation is that nothing even remotely controversial that could damage the brand will be included in the film. There are no villains in the film - or bad language. At its core the film is a date movie, no where near aggressive enough to be a film for NFL junkies but may draw some new fans in by showing players and executives in a different light - accuracy be damned. Is there anything more corporate than an NFL date movie?
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Following the archetype of a courtroom drama (subbing courtroom out for a draft war room) with characters who are copied-and-pasted straight out of any standard courtroom drama on primetime. Secret office romance, fresh-faced interns on their first day, personal life bleeding into office politics, boss and new employee challenging views at every available turn and an obligatory office trashing. They checked off as many boxes as time allowed.
Kevin Costner slides effortlessly into this role, athletes and cowboys have always been his best work. There’s a safety to his on-screen presence, not necessarily likable or endearing but a begrudging respect for what his characters are trying to achieve. He appears in almost every scene and carries the film. Can I wager that Costner is cast as a sports owner in the next 15 years?
Director Ivan Reitman (Ghostbusters, Kindergarden Cop) moves the plot by at a brisk pace, using a goofy split-screen as most of the characters interact by phone. It’s a lazy gimmick but it does help make things flow easier. No single character is particularly interesting or have a lot to do, the banter is quick and witty - even if it lacks realism. The dialogue is polar opposite to everything used by participants in the Wells report.
For the extensive supporting cast, i’ll borrow a Jalen Rose line ‘Keep getting dem checks’, cause that’s all anyone is doing here. No one was bad by any means, but they’ve all played similar characters to these before and weren’t stretching their acting limits. Just got their quota.
In the end this is the film the NFL wanted released and it sheds a golden light onto everyone involved in the draft process. Like a superhero saving the world, the NFL makes everyone’s dream come true. Everything from the stunning architecture in the cathedrals/stadiums, to the galvanizing effect teams have on a community, 'Draft Day' makes the NFL shield shine bright. Maybe, not accurate but the NFL likes to believe it is.
Draft Day is an entertaining two-hour movie filled with more drama than the NFL draft will likely have next month. It serves its purpose and will give football junkies the fix they want during the off-season. 'Moneyball' it isn’t but things don’t have to be the best to be enjoyed; as football fans aren’t we reminded of that when we tune into pre-season or Thursday night football.