Bust, by David Bax
Given that it concerns actual football teams and not lame stand-ins like the Miami Sharks of Any Given Sunday, it’s immediately apparent that Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day was made with the full cooperation of the National Football League, which is both its biggest selling point and its biggest weakness. Every bit of it aims to ride the NFL’s popularity (real life stadiums are shown with swooping aerial shots and are color-timed to look like the heli-carrier from The Avengers) yet it is so fearful of alienating casual or would-be fans that it is relentlessly superficial.
Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver, Jr., the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. Roughly twelve hours before the NFL draft is to begin, Weaver makes an implausibly boneheaded trade, giving up three years of first round picks for the day’s first overall pick. Perhaps he wasn’t thinking straight because of the same cognitive dissonance the audience feels when it’s revealed that Jennifer Garner is playing Weaver’s girlfriend and not his daughter. In any case, the rest of the movie takes place over the remaining half day as Weaver tries to save the Browns as well as his personal relationships with his girlfriend, his mother and seemingly every person currently or potentially under his employ.
Reitman attempts to balance the many disparate plot and character threads by presenting them with a fluid but distractingly showy use of split screen. Two or more panels often bleed into one another or swap places. A character in the far right panel crosses through the middle one to get to the left one. Draft Day displays the same hollow preoccupation with graphical showmanship as the TV sports shows that cover the real-life draft. The aesthetic restlessness betrays the film’s lack of trust in its own story.
Weaver spends his whole day hemming and hawing about what quarterback, defensive linebacker or running back he’s going to draft. That is, when he’s not seesawing on what to do about his pregnant girlfriend or whether he’s sad that his dad died or not. Screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph show the same inability to commit as their protagonist, flitting as they do from one story to the next and never deciding if they’re making an insider drama or a commercial puff piece.
A few years ago, Bennett Miller’s Moneyball suffered from the same lack of conviction, reducing the complexity of Sabermetrics to the single, understandable stat of on-base percentage. In comparison to Draft Day, though, that film is purely esoteric. Here, the marriage between Summit Entertainment and the National Football League bars any hint of criticism.
A couple years ago, during a halftime performance at the Super Bowl, MIA briefly flipped a bird at the camera. To this day, the NFL is attempting to fine her over $15 million for it. The most violent sport in America is insisting that her display harmed the “wholesomeness” of the league. That lack of self-awareness is evident throughout Draft Day, exemplified by the fact that one of the film’s best moments is its single, PG-13-alloted use of the word “fuck.”