Film review: Draft Day (U)

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In late spring, millions of Americans are glued to prime-time television for the year’s biggest lottery result.

The prizes aren’t money but college football players and the gamblers are the 32 National Football League (NFL) teams, who compete in two conferences each season for the ultimate prize: the Super Bowl.

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Comprising seven nail-biting rounds, the NFL draft is the selection process for these teams to identify and anoint the rising stars of the future.

The order of selection is based on the previous season’s results: the lowest ranked teams choose first and the runner-up and winner of Super Bowl choose last to ensure parity.

Before and during the draft, owners and coaches can secretly bargain with rival teams for a better position in the pecking order to ensure they get the player(s) they want.

Ivan Reitman’s lightweight sports drama unfolds on the day of the 2014 NFL draft and uses this high-stakes game of barter, bluff and tactical one-upmanship as a backdrop to one man’s rise from the ashes.

Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr, general manager of the Cleveland Browns, whose father died a week before the draft.

Sonny is in a secret relationship with Browns lawyer Ali Parker (Jennifer Garner), who is pregnant with their first child – good news Sonny has kept hidden from his acid-tongued mother (Ellen Burstyn).

The Browns have seventh pick in the draft but Tom Michaels (Patrick St Esprit), general manager of the Seattle Seahawks who have first pick, agrees to sell that prime spot in exchange for Weaver’s first round picks for the next three years.

Team owner Anthony Molina (Frank Langella) pressurises Sonny to take the deal and social media goes into meltdown with speculation that the Browns will select much fancied quarterback, Bo Callahan (Josh Pence).

Browns head coach Vince Penn (Denis Leary) is furious about the terms of the deal, which means he won’t get his choice, running back Ray Jennings (Arian Foster).

As the clock ticks down to the Browns’ first pick, Sonny faces a battle of head versus heart to placate fans and his staff.

Draft Day is solid and undemanding entertainment, entwining soap opera plot strands around a fictionalised running of the highpoint of every college football player’s season.

Costner doesn’t break sweat while co-stars scream and shout, not least Langella as the publicity-hungry head honcho, who expects to get his way.

The romantic subplot with Garner lightly simmers but never comes close to the boil.

Scriptwriters Rajiv Joseph and Scott Rothman keep the tone light and don’t saturate the screen with sporting terminology so British audiences, who prefer their football played by 11 men without helmets, can digest various twists and turns without excessive head-scratching.

Rating: 3/5

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