Skip to main content

You sold a cow for magic beans.

Draft Day
(2014)

Sports movies have been good to Kevin Costner. American Flyers not so much, perhaps. And For the Love of the Game not so much either (but didn’t Raimi get behind that baseball?) But Bull Durham, through Field of Dreams and onto Tin Cup, they’ve proved more consistent than his attempts at costly star vehicles, which often floundered almost as soon as he had the idea he set sail in them. On that level, it may be surprising that it’s taken him so long to come back around to them, although a good chunk of that will be down to his resurgent cachet. This year he’s a coach in McFarland USA, last year he was an NFL manager in Draft Day. And you know what? It’s a pretty good movie, and Costner’s pretty good in it.


It’s also the best thing Ivan Reitman’s done in more than a decade, although he’s done very little in more than a decade (that may sound like faint praise, but he provides a sure hand, and makes fine and complementary use of split screen throughout). I know diddly about American Football, but knowing nothing about baseball, other than that it’s a glorified version of rounders, did nothing to dent my enjoyment of Moneyball (in another of Costner’s 2014 pictures, 3 Days to Kill, he makes a point of telling a Frenchie that he comes from Pittsburg, where “We play real football”. I don’t know if there’s a reference in Black or White). This isn’t quite up there with the Brad Pitt movie, and it’s much more classically oiled fare, but Draft Day shares something of that picture’s design, in as much as the focus is not on the field, or the players, but on the behind the scenes mechanics that puts a team together and makes a side tick.


Costner is Sonny Weaver Jr, general manager of the Cleveland Browns, faced with an escalating series of difficult choices on the titular day, that of the NFL draft, in which newly eligible players are selected to the league. He finds himself embroiled in a series of battles, bluffs and seat-of-the-pants deals. Much of what ensues (trading first picks for future years’ picks with rival teams) is initially confusing, but its one of those movies with such surefooted momentum that, if one goes with the flow, one ought to get the gist of it in due course.


Weaver is initially under pressure from boss Frank Langella. As a result, he makes a decision regarding his potential first pick player that leads him to spend most of the rest of the running time looking for ways out of (scrutinising the history of this potential star for signs of weakness). If he isn’t incurring the wrath of his boss, he’s pissing of his head coach (Dennis Leary), players he might pass over for the pot of gold (Chadwick Boseman in a surprisingly minor role, but exuding charisma, which may be why he took the part), having spats with his mum and sister (Ellen Burstyn and Rosanna Arquette), or heavy conversations with his pregnant girlfriend (Jennifer Garner, a mere 18 years Kev’s junior).


The business with an intrusive mother may seem a bit artificial, but at least it’s germane to the trial by fire in which Weaver finds himself; he fired his father, the former coach, a year previously, and père died a week before the day’s events. What dad would have wanted runs throughout the picture, but this isn’t all about a Field of Dreams; the forces competing for his attention compel Weaver to be his own man.


The real weak spot here is the girlfriend character, shoehorned in to provide an extra bit of drama but having the opposite effect, making what could have been lean and to the point a little more bloated and much more process-driven.


Draft Day reminded me a little of Ron Howard’s The Paper in its faux-adrenalised, against-the-clock construction, but it’s more focused than that feature even if its less broadly accessible. Apparently the likelihood of Sonny’s decisions actually occurring is extremely remote, but plausibility doesn’t necessarily make a good movie. The build up to his make or break moment is Costner at his best, a reminder of why he became a leading man in the first place, that air of effortless earnestness, with a hint of exasperation.


If this is Kev’s show, his support is universally strong. Langella is always a treat and gets some of the best lines (“No, I’m going to see Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Of course I’m going to the draft”), and Reitman has populated the cast with a great eye for who will spark off Costner in whatever the next scene is. Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph’s script has a satisfying construction, such that Weaver’s wrong footed start to the day comes full circle, but with the shoe on the other foot (“You pancake eating motherfucker”, indeed). So much so that Weaver doesn’t need to go overboard and tell us he loves his job. Such moments of overstatement can’t spoil Draft Day, though. I didn’t think I’d have cause to say this again (and rarely have previously), but well done, Ivan.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

You look like an angry lizard!

Bohemian Rhapsody (2018)
(SPOILERS) I can quite see a Queen fan begrudging this latest musical biopic for failing to adhere to the facts of their illustrious career – but then, what biopic does steer a straight and true course? – making it ironic that they're the main fuel for Bohemian Rhapsody's box office success. Most other criticisms – and they're legitimate, on the whole – fall away in the face of a hugely charismatic star turn from Rami Malek as the band's frontman. He's the difference between a standard-issue, episodic, join-the-dots narrative and one that occasionally touches greatness, and most importantly, carries emotional heft.

I am so sick of Scotland!

Outlaw/King (2018)
(SPOILERS) Proof that it isn't enough just to want to make a historical epic, you have to have some level of vision for it as well. Say what you like about Mel's Braveheart – and it isn't a very good film – it's got sensibility in spades. He knew what he was setting out to achieve, and the audience duly responded. What does David Mackenzie want from Outlaw/King (it's shown with a forward slash on the titles, so I'm going with it)? Ostensibly, and unsurprisingly, to restore the stature of Robert the Bruce after it was rather tarnished by Braveheart, but he has singularly failed to do so. More than that, it isn’t an "idea", something you can recognise or get behind even if you don’t care about the guy. You’ll never forget Mel's Wallace, for better or worse, but the most singular aspect of Chris Pine's Bruce hasn’t been his rousing speeches or heroic valour. No, it's been his kingly winky.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

It was one of the most desolate looking places in the world.

They Shall Not Grow Old (2018)
Peter Jackson's They Shall Not Grow Old, broadcast by the BBC on the centenary of Armistice Day, is "sold" on the attraction and curiosity value of restored, colourised and frame rate-enhanced footage. On that level, this World War I documentary, utilising a misquote from Laurence Binyon's poem for its title, is frequently an eye-opener, transforming the stuttering, blurry visuals that have hitherto informed subsequent generations' relationship with the War. However, that's only half the story; the other is the use of archive interviews with veterans to provide a narrative, exerting an effect often more impacting for what isn't said than for what is.

There's something wrong with the sky.

Hold the Dark (2018)
(SPOILERS) Hold the Dark, an adaptation of William Giraldi's 2014 novel, is big on atmosphere, as you'd expect from director Jeremy Saulnier (Blue Ruin, Green Room) and actor-now-director (I Don’t Want to Live in This World Anymore) pal Macon Blair (furnishing the screenplay and appearing in one scene), but contrastingly low on satisfying resolutions. Being wilfully oblique can be a winner if you’re entirely sure what you're trying to achieve, but the effect here is rather that it’s "for the sake of it" than purposeful.

Believe me, Mr Bond, I could shoot you from Stuttgart und still create ze proper effect.

Tomorrow Never Dies (1997)
(SPOILERS) Some of the reactions to Spectre would have you believe it undoes all the “good” work cementing Daniel Craig’s incarnation of Bond in Skyfall. If you didn’t see that picture as the second coming of the franchise (I didn’t) your response to the latest may not be so harsh, despite its less successful choices (Blofeld among them). And it isn’t as if one step, forward two steps back are anything new in perceptions of the series (or indeed hugely divisive views on what even constitutes a decent Bond movie). After the raves greeting Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan suffered a decidedly tepid response to his second outing, Tomorrow Never Dies, albeit it was less eviscerated than Craig’s sophomore Quantum of Solace. Tomorrow’s reputation disguises many strong points, although it has to be admitted that a Moore-era style finale and a floundering attempt to package in a halcyon villain aren’t among them.

The Bond series’ flirtations with contemporary relevance have a…

It seemed as if I had missed something.

Room 237 (2012)
Stanley Kubrick’s meticulous, obsessive approach towards filmmaking was renowned, so perhaps it should be no surprise to find comparable traits reflected in a section of his worshippers. Legends about the director have taken root (some of them with a factual basis, others bunkum), while the air of secrecy that enshrouded his life and work has duly fostered a range of conspiracy theories. A few of these are aired in Rodney Ascher’s documentary, which indulges five variably coherent advocates of five variably tenuous theories relating to just what The Shining is really all about. Beyond Jack Nicholson turning the crazy up to 11, that is. Ascher has hit on a fascinating subject, one that exposes our capacity to interpret any given information wildly differently according to our disposition. But his execution, which both underlines and undermines the theses of these devotees, leaves something to be desired.

Part of the problem is simply one of production values. The audio tra…

You stole my car, and you killed my dog!

John Wick (2014)
(SPOILERS) For their directorial debut, ex-stunt guys Chad Stahelski and David Leitch plump for the old reliable “hit man comes out of retirement” plotline, courtesy of screenwriter Derek Kolstad, and throw caution to the wind. The result, John Wick, is one of last year’s geek and critical favourites, a fired up actioner that revels in its genre tropes and captures that elusive lightning in a bottle; a Keanu Reeves movie in which he is perfectly cast.

That said, some of the raves have probably gone slightly overboard. This is effective, silly, and enormous fun in its own hyper-violent way, but Stahelski and Leitch haven’t announced themselves stylistically so much as plastered the screen with ultra-violence and precision choreography. They have a bit of a way to go before they’re masters of their domain, and they most definitely need to stint on their seemingly insatiable appetite for a metalhead soundtrack. This kind of bludgeoning choice serves to undercut the action a…