As it is sloppily directed, lazily acted and melodramatically scripted, Draft Day fails.
The problems start with director Ivan Reitman who overuses a terrible split screen device that is not only distracting, but also artistically obvious. When Vontae Mack’s (Chadwick Boseman) shoulder goes past the border of his prescribed square, it shows how out-of-the-box he is, a good person who mostly wants to care for his family by playing football. When Sonny Weaver Jr’s (Kevin Costner) elbow encroaches into other GMs’ half of the screen, we see the same. We’re being told for whom to root.
But narrative obviousness is not the only issue with Reitman’s split screen. The other? The same technology could be seen in any 1970s movie.
Were the split screen Reitman’s only misstep, we might be able to forgive him. But, of course, it isn’t. He also overcasts the film with gimmicky cameos that detract from the storyline. Roger Goodell greeting the Browns fictional owner, Anthony Molina (Frank Langella); Ray Lewis discussing his long-ago draft status; Arian Foster (Ray Jennings) appearing as an important prospect; Sean Combs (Chris Crawford) serving as an agent; and so on.
Plus, Reitman tries to be overly mysterious in ways that grate the viewer’s patience, rather than heighten suspense. At one point, Ali (Jennifer Garner) finds a rumpled post-it note, at which she semi-frequently glances. The audience is never allowed to see it. When she gives it to Sonny, spurring him to act, the note still remains hidden. For nearly half the film, this piece of paper hangs around, always out of the audience’s view.
Finally, Reitman over-lights Garner, often encasing her in an almost-halo. In so doing, he once again uses filmmaking technique to tell us what to think.
The director is done no favors by writers Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph’s screenplay. The two under-develop every character and include far too many melodramatic distractions. Ali and Sonny are expecting a child, even though their relationship is supposedly secret. Sonny has just fired his father, who, it turns out, died thereafter. Vontae Mack’s sister has also recently died, leaving her two children in his care.
And it’s best not to think about Barb Weaver’s (Ellen Burstyn) utterly unbelievable purpose.
Then there are the actors. Garner and Costner are both coasting, relying on their status as movie stars, rather than acting. Equally troublingly, Burstyn and Denis Leary (Coach Penn) act as if they think the movie belongs to them, that they’re the focus.
Only Chadwick Boseman redeems himself by using subtle expressions to show his character’s softer side. But Boseman’s character is too minor for him to save Draft Day.
Of course, given its myriad flaws, no one could have.