Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How Unlikely Is This??

I expected little.  I got a lot.   This is a rarity.  A movie that delivers a great return on investment of time and money.

Yeah, I liked "Draft Day" that much.

There are those Saturday nights where you just feel like going to the movies.  But, these days, Hollywood doesn't necessarily hold up their end of the bargain.  You pull out a magnifying glass on the entertainment pages, desperately trying to find something or anything that doesn't feature either some Marvel superhero or another "end of the universe" scenario. 

I had seen the trailer for "Draft Day" and it looked passable.  Perhaps it's a football version of "Moneyball," which was one of my favorite films from the last five years.    I mean, it has to be more interesting than "Noah," right? 


Indeed, "Draft Day" turned out to be one terrific night at the cinema.  A great and engaging story.  Characters you root for.  Performances that are top-notch and that's even more astounding when you consider that Kevin Costner is the lead. 

And not one explosion engineered by some superhero's arch nemesis.

Praise God.

Okay, I've sort of lost touch with the goings-on of NFL Football.  Living in Los Angeles without a pro team will do that to you.  But I am familiar with the much bally-hooed annual draft day which is held at Radio City Music Hall.   I used to work in an office next door.  I know the frenzy.  The streets are so clogged that you can't leave your building.

Meanwhile, that event is the main focus of the movie.  "Draft Day" is all about Draft Day, which is watched on ESPN by six or seven million people every year.  And, while I am sure the screenwriters took some literary license here and there, it seemed pretty damn authentic.  I am betting there are some NFL geeks who will poke holes through it.  As for me and my two movie going pals, neither of which know much about football, we followed the story perfectly. 

Kevin Costner is down on his luck.   In this movie as well as in real life.  The last time this guy had a hit at the box office, there were two bullet holes in JFK's head.  And, in the same fashion, his character of Sonny Wheeler, the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, is at a crossroads.  His father, the team coach that he was forced to fire, has just died.  The new coach hates him.  His mother wants to use the occasion of Draft Day to scatter Dad's ashes on a practice field.  The team owner tells him that his draft pick better be perfect or else.  And Sonny has found out the secret dating relationship he has been having with a team lawyer has resulted in a pregnancy.  You find all of that out in the first ten minutes.

"Draft Day" gives you one day in the life of Sonny Wheeler as they await the evening's college draft.  It plays out very much like a day with Jack Bauer in "24" and holds almost as much intrigue.  There is a top college quarterback who is supposed to be Cleveland's number one pick.  Sonny doesn't think so.  He winds up wheeling and dealing himself until this back is to the wall and his career is at an almost certain end.    This draft pick will essentially define the rest of his career.  And the audience is roped into this dilemma from the very first reel. 

While "Moneyball" was a true story about Oakland Athletic G.M. Billy Beane, "Draft Day" is fiction.  But the connections to so many real franchises and the accompanying cameo appearances from genuine players and broadcasters makes it all feel super-organic.   Even if you don't necessarily understand or know the surrounding venues, you get wrapped up in the story.  And that's the mark of a good script and top-notch direction by Ivan Reitman.

You also know that a movie is working when it includes actors that you usually don't like but wind up enjoying this one time.  Besides Costner, there are standout performances from the likes of Jennifer Garner, Denis Leary, Frank Langella, and Ellen Burstyn.  Generally, I can take or leave all of the above.  But I can't imagine seeing "Draft Day" without thinking about all their characters.  Good work all around.

There are some wonderful twists and turns as Sonny uses this Draft Day to shape his team and the rest of his life.  You are surprised and then thoroughly satisfied at the end.  Fifteen bucks well spent and I left the theater wanting to root for the players destined to play on next season's Cleveland Browns.

Except I remember they're not real.  Or are they?  "Draft Day" is so good that it had me that confused. 

LEN'S RATING:  Four stars.

Dinner last night:  Fried chicken cutlet, stuffed potato, and salad.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Denis Leary and Frank Langella know how to bring the nasty so naturally I'm always happy to see them in the cast.

Leary is a major sports nut and he brings that to his performance. You know this guy lives and breathes football. It's everything to him. That passion fires the character and convinces in every scene. Plus, he's funny.

Langella brings the ice, his patented chill which works for his character, a rich team owner who never once removes his dark glasses. He's an American aristocrat, looking down his nose at every employee.

The big surprise for me is how funny this whole picture is. Lots of laughs. Leary has my favorite gag. It involves fire.