Journey back with me 20 or so years, to the prime of Kevin Costner's movie career. He was the center of romances and heroic narratives like Dances With Wolves and JFK, representing integrity with a square jaw, steely stare and resolute seriousness.
It really pissed me off.
That's because Costner was a delightful comedic actor begging to be given more chances to make audiences laugh. He was charming as the loose-cannon gunslinger in Silverado and a terrific rogue with a heart of gold in the baseball comedy Bull Durham. But for the better part of two decades, he's wasted his talents on roles that never let him crack a smile.
So watching Costner enjoy himself in a milieu that suits him -- the football comedy Draft Day -- is a treat. He plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the general manager of the Cleveland Browns, who is preparing for the impending NFL draft under trying circumstances. His girlfriend and coworker, Ali (Jennifer Garner), has just told him she's pregnant. His popularity is shaky because he fired his father, the team's legendary coach, shortly before his death. And the team's owner (Frank Langella) is pressuring Sonny to make a splash in the draft. This leads Sonny to trade up for the number-one pick, quarterback Bo Callahan (Scott Pence).
Draft Day revels in its NFL-approved status, showcasing team logos, stadiums and ESPN draft analysts. The story zips through the decisions Sonny faces, including disagreements with the new head coach (Denis Leary), without pausing too long to bring the uninitiated up to speed. There's precious little on-field action, but this movie is filled with catnip for folks who follow the buildup to their own team's draft pick with feverish fascination.
When Draft Day is focused on the behind-the-scenes world of the NFL, it's got loads of pop, but when it moves to the soap opera of Sonny's life, it sags. The filmmakers don't show us the connection between Costner and Garner, and the relationship detracts from what should be the focus of Sonny's psychology: the challenges of working in his father's shadow.
But overall, Draft Day succeeds as a character study. Costner is in his element portraying a guy who's trying to prove he's got the right skills for his job. I hope other filmmakers consider this performance when casting him in the future.