Saturday, July 18, 2015

Draft Day

Clearly, we've entered the realm of science fiction. I mean really, a Cleveland Browns general manager ... giving thought to his draft picks? This is truly speculative fiction.

I can only wonder what someone who isn't a Cleveland Browns fan would think when they watch Draft Day (2014). I'm from Cleveland, I was born the season of Earnest Byner's fumble, my first sports idol was Bernie Kosar, I remember the uproar over The Move, and the last game I ever attended, Tim Couch was quarterback. After that, I kind stopped following them (do you blame me?) and only started paying attention again the last couple of years. So even though I'm not really a huge fan of sports movies, Draft Day is a movie I can't pass by.

Draft Day, directed by Ivan Reitman, stars Kevin Costner as Sonny Weaver Jr., general manager of the Browns. It's Draft Day, and his boss, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) wants him to "make a splash," but his girlfriend, Aly (Jennifer Garner), who's in charge of the salary cap, just told him she's pregnant, and it's only been a week since the death of his father, Sonny Weaver Sr., a legendary Browns coach whom Sonny fired. Meanwhile, the new coach, Penn (Denis Leary), likes to flash his Super Bowl ring and has little respect for his general manager.

Sonny, who has the number seven pick, is weighing between linebacker Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) and running back Ray Jennings (Arian Foster), whose father Earl (Terry Crews) played for the Browns. That's all thrown in the air when the general manager of the Seattle Seahawks offers Sonny a deal: the number one pick for the next three year's worth of first round picks. If he takes it, Sonny can draft top quarterback prospect, Bo Callahan (Josh Pence), even though Cleveland's current quarterback, Brian Drew (Tom Welling), is back from knee surgery and said to be stronger than ever.

Fundamentally, Draft Day tries to be two things: an insider look at a football team's organization on one of the most trying and important days of the season and a character drama about a man under pressure on all personal and professional fronts. Unfortunately, the two directions don't mesh very well. Football fans interested in strategy, statistics, and the game itself probably won't care too much for all the personal melodrama and character subplots, most of which feel off the shelf, especially the relationship between Sonny and Aly and his living in the shadow of his old man. Particularly schmaltzy and contrived is when Ellen Burstyn shows up as Sonny's mother, carrying his father's ashes and demanding her son drop everything he's doing on the most important day of the year to accompany her to the practice field for an ad-hoc ceremony. No explanation is offered as to why a football coach's widow wouldn't realize that waiting one day when things are a little less hectic would probably be more fair to her son, especially when she's the one who prodded him to fire his father for the sake of his health (a lot of good that did).

Because so much time is spent on this Hollywood material, the Moneyball aspects of the movie get reduced to mostly surface level observations - is this player of higher moral character, etc. - and you don't come away feeling you've gotten any great insight into how a team selects its draft choices. The climax comes to life as Sonny wheels and deals under the clock, but it seems really unlikely he would get the results he gets here. It seems too happy and perfect, especially since the movie ends with the start of the season, and the Browns look ready to dominate.

That's the real problem of the movie. The actual NFL draft is more of a prelude than the main attraction. Sure, to long-suffering Browns fans, the draft is when the hope and optimism for a season are at their highest, but all that goes out the window once the games actually begin. Look at the history of the Browns since 1999: how many supposed saviors of the franchise have been selected in the draft, and how many of them amounted to dick?  In fact, the year this movie came out, the Browns in real life did essentially what Kevin Costner tries to avoid in the story: draft highly and at great cost for a quarterback who looks more like a bust than the future. The real-life Browns have often been much more baffling and dysfunctional than anything dreamed up by Hollywood.

No comments:

Post a Comment