With two first-round picks in the 2012 NFL draft the Cleveland Browns were favorites to trade up to the number two overall pick and land the rights to Heisman trophy-winner Robert Griffin, III. They were outbid by the Washington Redskins, whom Griffin would lead to the playoffs. The Browns kept their picks and chose running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden. Two short years later, neither player is still a Cleveland Brown.
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So when the Seattle Seahawks go looking for a sucker to trade the number one pick in Ivan Reitman’s “Draft Day,” beleaguered Browns fans (of which there are no other kind) know where the bull’s eye lands: squarely on the back of Browns General Manager Sonny Weaver (played by Kevin Costner). To the Cleveland faithful, even the looniest of the loony things that follow might seem plausible. Paying a ransom of future draft picks to move up to the top pick is one thing. But why spend so much just to pick the same player he would have chosen later? Why pass on a golden-arm quarterback prospect because of a rumor about a birthday party? Football nuts will see Draft Day as a cartoon. Browns fans might suspect it’s a docudrama.
That’s just the football part for Costner’s character, on the afternoon of the NFL Draft (when pro teams select the best college players). His father just died. He knocked up a team executive (Jennifer Garner). And his mother wants to spread his father’s ashes on a practice field RIGHT THIS MINUTE! To make matters worse, the planet must be on an asteroid collision course for Draft Night, because none of these people can put off these distractions until the next day.
Draft Day takes inspiration from the baseball front office drama of Brad Pitt and “Moneyball.” While that film has flaws, it knows baseball and presents Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane as a sharp innovator. By contrast, “Draft Day” makes you think Weaver and the Browns’ scouts spent all offseason throwing paper airplanes at each other. Have they studied these players at all? Weaver has never spoken to the quarterback on whom he’s risking his job. When you make a movie about people at work, you should learn deeply about the job. Research counts. Departures from reality are acceptable, but why depart when the reality can be intense?
Everyone would like to see Kevin Costner go on a late career run. His sober core of decency dominates the film like a good star should. Reitman splits the screens on telephone calls among GMs; Costner shows the breezy essence of Rock Hudson and the presumable football smarts of Doris Day.
Despite the fact it would inevitably turn into a commercial for a billion-dollar sports enterprise, a film about the NFL draft should have plenty of good material, money, family, hopes, dreams, sins, deception, obsession, isolation, and a ticking clock. That film is still on the clock.