Rated PG. Running time: 1 hour 49 min.
Our content advisories (1-10): Violence 1; Language 2; Sex/Nudity 1.
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
An intelligent mind acquires knowledge,
and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.
The shopper says, “That’s junk—I’ll take it off your hands,”
then goes off boasting of the bargain.
Proverbs 20:14 The Message
Like Moneyball, director Ivan Reitman’s film focuses upon a team’s office rather than the players on the football field. I have no idea how accurately the ins and outs of the manager’s office are depicted in the film—but I do know that it is filled with drama that accurately portrays the qualities of a strong leader. Kevin Costner as the Cleveland Browns GM Sonny Weaver Jr. is indeed a strong leader holding up under tremendous pressure during the last 12 hours of Draft Day.
The camera cuts back and forth between Radio City Music Hall in New York where preparations are being made for the nationally broadcast Draft Picks and the offices of Sonny and the managers of a number of other teams as they wheel and deal. Sonny is operating under a cloud—of grief because his father, once a legendary Browns manager had died a week earlier, and he is also under the cloud of having fired his father sometime before that. Other pressures come from his fellow staff member and girl friend Ali (Jennifer Garner) and team owner Harvey Molina (Frank Langella). The latter wants him to make a “big splash” by his pick, and Ali, just informing him that she is pregnant, is upset by his failure to show much enthusiasm for her announcement.
Sonny would like to draft a black player named Vontae Mack (Chadwick Boseman) to round out his team, but the youth plays defense, and that definitely would not be splashy enough for Molina. The better known offensive players sell the tickets. Then comes an intriguing offer from the Seattle Seahawks who own the #1 overall pick. They probably would use it to draft the top prospect, Bo Callahan (Josh Pence) a Heisman Trophy winner who’s eagerly sought after by several other teams. The price is very high: Sonny would have to give them his #1 pick for the next three years. There follows a labrythine series of deals involving other team managers, key to which is Sonny’s knowledge of the prospective players personal lives (such as the tidbit that none of Bo Callahan’s teammates attended his birthday party) and the personalities of his rival general managers.
Adding to the pressure on Sonny is the Browns’ head coach, Vince Penn (Denis Leary). Just brought up from Texas, and who has his own ideas for the players he’d like to see drafted. Oh, yes, there also is Sonny’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) who shows up carrying the urn with the ashes of his father. It seems that she has chosen this afternoon to follow her husband’s wishes to have his ashes scattered across the football field. She is enraged when the distracted Sonny tells her he cannot take part in the impromptu ceremony just then.
For some the film has seemed like a long commercial for the NFL, and I suppose it is in a way, though certainly an interesting and dramatic one. There were times when I thought this business of buying and trading a group of hulky young men was similar to that of slave trading a hundred and fifty years ago—images from the slave auction in 12 Years a Slave scene kept popping into my mind. Of course, many of these vied for young men in this film would become millionaires, and they are not being dragged in chains to Rockefeller Center Radio Music Hall, but were coming willingly, many of them in posh limousines.
Most of all, I saw the film as a good study of leadership under pressure. Sonny knows his game, his competitors, and the prospective players; does the hard research to garner the facts; is willing to make choices that he knows will be condemned by those who do not understand his reasoning; and sticks with those decisions come what may—and this includes his being fired by his angry boss who flies back in his private jet from Manhattan when Sonny announces over the TV hook-up the deal he has made. You might be like me—about the only NFL games I watch are the Super Bowl and one of the play-off games—but I predict you still might like this film. I even thought that Sonny is a bit like Moses—harassed constantly by his rebellious people, confounded by hardship after hardship, yet keeping a firm hand and eye on his goal of reaching the Promised Land, Sonny’s being the somewhat lesser important promised land of building his own ideal football team.