I'm rather amazed that, after having seen just three "new" films in all of 2013, tonight I saw my seventh new film of 2014 -- and we're still in the first quarter of the year! Not only that, but three of the films have starred Kevin Costner, who is back in movies in a big way this year, and that's a great thing.
Costner's latest, DRAFT DAY (2014), opens on April 11th, but I was able to see a preview screening tonight thanks to a kind friend who knows I like Costner and invited me to be her guest.
I found DRAFT DAY highly enjoyable. Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the GM of the Cleveland Browns, a man living in the shadow of his very recently deceased father. As a matter of fact, Sonny Jr. had once infamously fired his father, a coach, and now he's struggling to put together his own vision of the team, all while the team owner (Frank Langella) is breathing down his neck and expecting Sonny to deliver big time on draft day.
DRAFT DAY was what MONEYBALL (2011) should have been, with the focus on wheeling and dealing. DRAFT DAY avoids the "Brad Pitt driving around in a car thinking" syndrome by setting the entire film, other than an epilogue, on a single day and keeping the story moving, not allowing more than brief shots of Costner staring into space pondering his next move.
The film tells its story with a modern, energetic visual style, using lots of split screens and onscreen graphics as Sonny negotiates his way through the day. I especially liked the way the film clearly established who Sonny was speaking with prior to each phone call, showing that team's stadium.
The movie does get formulaic, with Sonny and his girlfriend (Jennifer Garner), a team exec, having a major turning point in their relationship on that very day, meanwhile his mother (Ellyn Burstyn) is having her own crisis of sorts. (You'd think a woman who had lived her entire life with football wouldn't try to pull Sonny aside for something important just a couple of hours before the draft starts!) That said, it's a good formula, briskly told, and vastly more interesting than the personal story which made MONEYBALL so sluggish. Whereas MONEYBALL was plodding, DRAFT DAY flies by so quickly I was almost surprised when it was over, and I would have enjoyed spending even more time with the characters.
One of the things I liked about Costner's character was that despite all the pressure, for the most part -- other than an unfortunate run-in with an intern's laptop -- he has a professional demeanor, whether it's wearing a suit when many around him don't bother, or the polite way he quizzes potential draft picks and their agents on the phone. He repeatedly says "Just let me do my job," and it's a job he clearly relishes despite its headaches.
Dennis Leary registers well as the coach who clashes with Sonny over his last-minute decisions. As a Sam Elliott fan I was sorry Elliott only had one extended scene as a college coach, but he made it count.
That's Costner's long-ago SILVERADO (1985) costar, Rosanna Arquette, playing his ex-wife in a brief scene. Tom Welling of SMALLVILLE plays the Browns quarterback battling back from injury, who's livid he might be replaced by star pick Bo Callahan (Josh Pence).
DRAFT DAY was directed by Ivan Reitman. The movie, shot by Eric Steelberg, has a very crisp, clean visual style. It will look great airing on TV in high definition, sandwiched in between some football games.
Parental advisory: This film is rated PG-13 for strong language.
For trailers and more, visit the movie's official website. The trailer can also be seen on IMDb.
Additional "new" movies reviewed this year: JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT (2014), THE MONUMENTS MEN (2014), THE LEGO MOVIE (2014), THE WIND RISES (2013), NON-STOP (2014), and 3 DAYS TO KILL (2014).