There are so many things to love about life that some days it amazes me how often I’m in a bad mood. For instance, I love football. I’m a Trojan and I bleed Cardinal and Gold. I have season tickets to the new Arena Football team in Southern California, the L.A. Kiss. I had season tickets for the L.A. Express of the USFL and I went to Rams and Raider games when they were here in L.A.. I also love Kevin Costner. He can be weak in a movie and I can still enjoy it because he has star power still. Almost twenty-five years after he was the biggest movie star in the world, I can still look forward to a movie that he stars in. I love movies, obviously. For some reason, I love sports movies and Costner and sports movies go together like peanut butter and jelly. I love getting to see movies early. In the old days, when I was in the preferred demographic, I went to dozens of advance screenings and I still like a mid-night screening if I can work my old bones up for it. I am also developing a strong love for AMC theaters. They currently run classic films on the big screen, they host the annual Best Picture Showcase and they have the best rewards program in the business. So how does this all fit together? I got to go to an advance screening tonight of the new Kevin Costner football film, “Draft Day”, because of the AMC Stubbs program.
Oh, and in case you could not guess, I loved the movie. “Draft Day” is almost genetically engineered to appeal to me. It is an adult movie, about the game that I love, starring one of the most appealing screen actors of the last three decades. There are no real football sequences, just a few film clips that are used to familiarize us with the potential players. There is no big game, player showdown or coaching miracle. This is a story about the behind the scenes maneuvering in the NFL for draft positions and the strategies used to improve your team or solve problems. There is almost as much macho posturing in the war rooms of the draft as there is on the field. Everyone has an opinion and an agenda, but ultimately someone has to choose. In this story the man who has to make that decision is Cleveland Brown GM Sonny Weaver.
Weaver is in a no win situation, the Browns are notorious at failing their fans. The best joke about that which I know is the longtime Browns fan who requested in his will that the pallbearers at his funeral be Browns players. When they show up out of respect, someone asks if he really loved those players that much that he wanted to honor them with this request. The answer was “No” he just felt that it would be appropriate at the grave for the team to let him down one last time. Costner’s Sonny is the son of a legendary former coach who had died just a week or so before the draft. It turns out that he actually fired his own father a season before. Everyone is rooting for the Browns to grab a Golden Ticket and make a run at the Super Bowl. An opportunity is presented to Sonny to trade up for the number one pick and a chance at a franchise quarterback, potentially of a Manning, Luck, Elway status. The pressure to make a deal, the desire to please the fans and his father’s legacy, seem to conspire Sonny into making a choice he is not entirely comfortable with.
The NFL must have a piece of the action on this film. There is so much inside access to the Draft day events and personalities that It almost becomes a commercial for the business (cynics will probably take out the word “almost” in that last sentence). Real figures with the current NFL mix with our fictional characters and it all plays out like a backstage musical where we get to see what goes on behind the curtain. The story throws in some personal conflicts in the form of a demanding widowed mother, Ellen Burstyn, and a pregnant girlfriend who happens to be the front office money manager for the team played by Jennifer Garner. There are a slew of good supporting players including the devious GM for the Seahawks, the impervious owner of the Browns, and a couple of other prospects that Sonny has his eye on. The movie goes deep with character actors and peripheral characters that add color and context to the events in the film. There is a good deal of humor and as the clock starts counting down on the draft, there is a good deal of tension.
I don’t think I have seen as much split screen use in a movie since the original “Thomas Crown Affair”. The director turns out to be Ivan Reitman and he knows how to make an otherwise dull phone call something of an event. The personal stories don’t get in the way of the dynamics of the business, they just flesh out the day a bit more. This is a movie that is well written when it comes to making the inevitable outcome suspenseful and entertaining. Costner plays it real, never overdoing the drama and reflecting a man who knows what he wants but is not sure that everybody else will want the same thing. You will be cheering for the Browns and that is truly a piece of film making magic.