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

We live in a twilight world.

Tenet (2020)
(SPOILERS) I’ve endured a fair few confusingly-executed action sequences in movies – more than enough, actually – but I don’t think I’ve previously had the odd experience of being on the edge of my seat during one while simultaneously failing to understand its objectives and how those objectives are being attempted. Which happened a few times during Tenet. If I stroll over to the Wiki page and read the plot synopsis, it is fairly explicable (fairly) but as a first dive into this Christopher Nolan film, I frequently found it, if not impenetrable, then most definitely opaque.

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

The protocol actually says that most Tersies will say this has to be a dream.

Jupiter Ascending (2015)
(SPOILERS) The Wachowski siblings’ wildly patchy career continues apace. They bespoiled a great thing with The Matrix sequels (I liked the first, not the second), misfired with Speed Racer (bubble-gum visuals aside, hijinks and comedy ain’t their forte) and recently delivered the Marmite Sense8 for Netflix (I was somewhere in between on it). Their only slam-dunk since The Matrix put them on the movie map is Cloud Atlas, and even that’s a case of rising above its limitations (mostly prosthetic-based). Jupiter Ascending, their latest cinema outing and first stab at space opera, elevates their lesser works by default, however. It manages to be tone deaf in all the areas that count, and sadly fetches up at the bottom of their filmography pile.

This is a case where the roundly damning verdicts have sadly been largely on the ball. What’s most baffling about the picture is that, after a reasonably engaging set-up, it determinedly bores the pants off you. I haven’t enco…

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
(1982)
(SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek, but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.

When I barked, I was enormous.

Dean Spanley (2008)
(SPOILERS) There is such a profusion of average, respectable – but immaculately made – British period drama held up for instant adulation, it’s hardly surprising that, when something truly worthy of acclaim comes along, it should be singularly ignored. To be fair, Dean Spanleywas well liked by critics upon its release, but its subsequent impact has proved disappointingly slight. Based on Lord Dunsany’s 1939 novella, My Talks with Dean Spanley, our narrator relates how the titular Dean’s imbibification of a moderate quantity of Imperial Tokay (“too syrupy”, is the conclusion reached by both members of the Fisk family regarding this Hungarian wine) precludes his recollection of a past life as a dog. 

Inevitably, reviews pounced on the chance to reference Dean Spanley as a literal shaggy dog story, so I shall get that out of the way now. While the phrase is more than fitting, it serves to underrepresent how affecting the picture is when it has cause to be, as does any re…