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 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're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

To defeat the darkness out there, you must defeat the darkness inside yourself.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010)
Easily the best of the Narnia films, which is maybe damning it with faint praise. 

Michael Apted does a competent job directing (certainly compared to his Bond film - maybe he talked to his second unit this time), Dante Spinotti's cinematography is stunning and the CGI mostly well-integrated with the action. 

Performance-wise, Will Poulter is a stand-out as a tremendously obnoxious little toff, so charismatic you're almost rooting for him. Simon Pegg replaces Eddie Izzard as the voice of Reepicheep and delivers a touching performance.
***

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…

Old Boggy walks on Lammas Eve.

Jeeves and Wooster 2.5: Kidnapped  (aka The Mysterious Stranger)
Kidnapped continues the saga of Chuffnell Hall. Having said of 2.4 that the best Wodehouse adaptations tend to stick closely to the text, this one is an exception that proves the rule, diverging significantly yet still scoring with its highly preposterous additions.

Jeeves: Tis old boggy. He be abroad tonight. He be heading for the railway station.
Gone are many of the imbroglios involving Stoker and Glossop (the estimable Roger Brierley), including the contesting of the former’s uncle’s will. Also gone, sadly, is the inebriated Brinkley throwing potatoes at Stoker, which surely would have been enormous fun. Instead, we concentrate on Bertie being locked aboard Stoker’s yacht in order to secure his marriage to Pauline (as per the novel), Chuffy tailing Pauline in disguise (so there’s a different/additional reason for Stoker to believe Bertie and she spent the night together, this time at a pub en route to Chufnell Hall) and …

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.

All the way up! We’ll make it cold like winter used to be.

Soylent Green (1973)
(SPOILERS) The final entry in Chuck Heston’s mid-career sci-fi trilogy (I’m not counting his Beneath the Planet of the Apes extended cameo). He hadn’t so much as sniffed at the genre prior to 1967, but over the space of the next half decade or so, he blazed a trail for dystopian futures. Perhaps the bleakest of these came in Soylent Green. And it’s only a couple of years away. 2022 is just around the corner.

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…

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.