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Movie Reviews

Kevin Costner goes to the gridiron in fictional yarn based on annual NFL event

Kevin Costner goes to the gridiron  in fictional yarn based on annual NFL event

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Neil Pond
American Profile
April 30, 2014
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Draft Day
Starring Kevin Costner, Jennifer Garner and Dennis Leary
Directed by Ivan Reitman
PG-13, 109 min.

Somewhat as “Moneyball” looked at the inside business of baseball, director Ivan Reitman’s “Draft Day” pulls back the curtain on the high stakes, high pressures and high-wire hoopla of the annual process by which the National Football League selects its new recruits.

Unlike the better-crafted, based-on-a-true-story baseball movie, however, this formulaic, made-up tale is a pure Hollywood concoction. But it blurs its line between fact and fiction by the use of real NFL locations, cameos by real-life past and present NFL players and other real-life sports personalities, and scenes filmed for the movie at last May’s NFL draft at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

The movie is set in one 12-hour period, during which the main character, fictitious Cleveland Browns manager Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner), has to set things up to get the best new players he can when the Browns’ “picks” come up in the draft. This involves some serious war-room wheeling and dealing.

Should Sonny go for the hotshot quarterback (Josh Pence), the humble son of a retired Browns player (Arian Foster), or the passionate defensive tackle (Chadwick Boseman)?

To add Sonny’s stress, he’s got a team owner (Frank Langella) who wants to fire him, a head coach (Dennis Leary) who doesn’t like him, and a girlfriend/co-exec (Jennifer Garner) who’s not happy that he’s not happy that she’s just found out she’s pregnant with their child.

Even Sonny’s own mom (Ellen Burstyn) piles on him. “You sold a cow for magic beans!” she chides him after hearing of a deal he intends to make.

Reitman and veteran film editors Dana Glauberman and Sheldon Kahn do some innovative things with split-screen wipes, swipes and pans, as when two characters have a telephone conversation and “overlap” into each other’s spaces. It gives a sense of motion to scenes where the only thing going on otherwise is just two people yakking--and there is a good deal of that.

Football fans may be a bit disappointed that there’s so much blab-age and so little yardage--excessive talking at the expense of actual gridiron action. But the movie does a good job of dramatizing an aspect of the sport that’s become an entertainment event itself; this year’s draft will be televised on ESPN May 8-10.

But most fans will likely enjoy the all-around air of authenticity, spotting the real-life sports personalities--and throwing penalty flags when it feels like Hollywood puts a bit too much melodramatic spin on the subject.

And through it all, Costner--trailing decades of weathered charisma from “Field of Dreams,” “Bull Durham” and “Tin Cup”--anchors the story with a screen persona that seems right at home in a sports-themed movie about a central character under pressure, making decisions at odds with those around him, but somehow rallying to show that maybe he knows what he’s doing, after all.

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