Draft Day: NFL Film Bypasses Realism For Drama

Kevin Costner, center, and Jennifer Garner, right, as Cleveland Browns executives in Draft Day. Photo credit: Credit: Dale Robinette/Summit Entertainment.

Draft Day may not be the most realistic look an NFL office under pressure every April but this sports drama is still a solid film on rewatch.

Whenever I hear Kevin Costner is starring in a sports movie, it commands my attention. When it comes to sports films, the man can do no wrong. Field of Dreams, Bull Durham, Tin Cup, need I say more? And so it was that I saw Costner on the big screen back in 2014. My most recent rewatch may have been my first viewing since then but I’m not too sure. What I can certainly tell you is that this film still has the charm.

Draft Day follows Cleveland Browns general manager Sonny Weaver, Jr. (Kevin Costner) in the hours leading up to the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Browns have the 7th pick of the night and there’s no shortage of talent. They could go with Florida State running back Ray Jennings (Arian Foster), the son of a former Browns player. Bo Wisconsin quarterback Bo Callahan (Josh Pence) is likely out of reach unless they trade up for the pick. And then there’s Vontae Mack  (Chadwick Boseman) the Ohio State linebacker. This is a film that knows how to raise the stakes by Weaver trading four first round picks to get the first pick of the draft. Adding onto the pressure is learning that salary cap analyst and secret girlfriend Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner) is pregnant.

GMs understandably face a lot of pressure and Weaver is no different. He’s the GM who fired his own father as the Browns football coach. Vince Penn (Denis Leary) replaced the legendary coach and he’s no fan of selling the team’s future away. Team owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) wanted Weaver to make the splash but Molina has no idea what’s about to happen. Make no mistake that Weaver was tricked by Seattle Seahawks GM Tom Michaels (Patrick St. Esprit). Michaels could have got Bo Callahan with the first pick but by trading down, they don’t have to pay #1 draft pick money. And so what happens? Weaver takes advantage of Jacksonville Jaguars rookie GM Jeff Carson (Pat Healy, who plays this scene for humor). It’s a genius move to trade a few second round picks for the 6th pick. Weaver still has some few tricks up his sleeve.

It may not be the smartest way to go about things but it certainly raises the stakes. You can’t just make a sports movie without having some drama. They just don’t work that way. That’s the beauty of this film and why it’s so rewatchable a few years later. I can excuse the liberties taken in how the NFL executive offices operate. After all, I’m not a die-hard NFL fan but again, a working NFL office just wouldn’t be exciting on screen. These films require drama in order for them to work. However, this is a film that did work with the NFL especially with being able to film at the 2013 NFL Draft. Hell, real-life agents appear in the green room and David Dunn even represents Vontae Mack.

Former Green Bay Packers vice president Andrew Brandt had no shortage of criticism. As Brandt writes, what really happens in a team’s draft room probably wouldn’t be exciting enough for cinema but to each their own. Finding Callahan’s weaknesses wouldn’t be taking place on the big day! For what it’s worth, Moneyball–one of the greatest baseball movies of all time–also takes some dramatic liberties and that film is based on a true story!

There’s a sense of sadness in watching the film with knowing how much talent we lost with Chadwick Boseman’s passing. There’s a saying that there’s no such thing as small roles however Boseman makes the most of limited screen time as Ohio State star Vontae Mack. We’ll never see the likes of him again, unfortunately.

Sports movies are a genre in and of itself. You really have to be a sports fan to understand the inside baseball so to speak. I can’t say for sure that this film is the type to appeal to the average moviegoer but to each their own. But even back in 2013-14, the NFL was dealing with things like CTE and other issues.

Draft Day might bypass realism for drama but it’s still a fun watch.

DIRECTOR: Ivan Reitman
SCREENWRITERS: Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman
CAST: Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, Sam Elliott, with Ellen Burstyn and Chadwick Boseman

Summit Entertainment opened Draft Day in theaters on April 11, 2014.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.