Published Apr 11, 2014In the tense hours leading up to the 2014 NFL Draft, Sonny Weaver, Jr. is learning how difficult being general manager of the Cleveland Browns truly is. Faced with a rabid fan base understandably tired of decades of disappointment and a staff with differing opinions on what direction the organization should be heading, Ivan Reitman's Draft Day wrings drama and suspense out of a fairly accurate depiction of his life inside the high-stakes NFL pressure cooker.
With the Browns holding the seventh pick in the draft and the team's owner (Frank Langella) insisting that they make a big splash, Sonny (Kevin Costner) negotiates a trade with the Seattle Seahawks for the first overall selection and gives away a trio of first-round picks in the process. The path is now clear for him to take Wisconsin quarterback Bo Callahan, the most-hyped prospect in the draft, but Sonny still has good reasons to also consider linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) and running back Ray Jennings (real-life Houston Texans running back Arian Foster).
His decision-making is clouded by strong opinions from within his war room, particularly those of Super Bowl-winning head coach Penn (Denis Leary), who believes they already have a winning quarterback on the roster in Brian Drew (Tom Welling). He's also distracted by the recent death of his father — who served as the team's coach until Sonny had to fire his own dad — and a grieving mother (Ellen Burstyn). Not to mention the fact that he has just found out he is about to become a father himself as a result of an ongoing not-so-secret relationship he is having with the team's salary cap specialist (Jennifer Garner).
The script by Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph is smart and unique, hinging not on any of the usual big games typically seen in sports movies, but the fact that scouting kids out of college is an imprecise science where careers of players and team employees hang precariously in the balance. As Sonny sniffs around to find out what might be missing from all of the impressive game film everyone's seen of Callahan, the film astutely recognizes there are intangibles that can go unnoticed when scouts become too mesmerized by how far and accurate a guy throws a football or how fast he runs a 40-yard dash.
It's great to see Costner back in the sports genre where he has done some of his best work, inhabiting the world of front office executives with a convincing combination of charm and resolve. There are a few scenes that strain believability and the romance with Garner, obviously intended to have the film appeal to a broader audience, can't help but feel a little perfunctory. Still, this remains an uncommonly perceptive peek behind the curtain at the stressful environment in which professional sports teams are assembled.