As the NFL readies for its annual draft of college football players, the new film Draft Day pulls back the curtain on the high stakes of the offseason that has helped turn the United States' most popular sport into a year-round addiction.
The film, which opens Friday ahead of the NFL's three-day draft from May 8-10, stars Kevin Costner and dramatizes the backroom wheeling and dealing of football's general managers as they jockey for the best players and try to fleece one another while trading draft picks.
But in an age of 24-hour sports networks like ESPN and HBO's behind-the-scenes NFL reality show Hard Knocks (which featured the Miami Dolphins), Costner thinks authenticity is crucial to hook a viewer who has seen countless locker-room speeches and front-office interviews.
“If you've ever played the sports you're trying to depict, you don't want people just doing it and messing up completely. People take it really personally,” the 59-year-old Oscar winner told Reuters.
Costner plays fictional Cleveland Browns team general manager Sonny Weaver Jr., who has to manage upheaval in his personal life and the dueling pressures of which player to draft from the team's owner and its coach.
“For me, I've made a few [sports films], but I always thought they were literate in a sense that the writing was really exceptional, and it was set against the backdrop of each sport,” said Costner, who built his heartland reputation with the baseball films Bull Durham and Field of Dreams and the golf comedy Tin Cup. “And the big deal there is, ‘Can you make those moments be authentic?’ ” he added.
Draft Day, directed by Ghostbusters filmmaker Ivan Reitman, had the approval and participation of the NFL, and several scenes were filmed during last year's draft in New York.
The National Football League's annual draft has become big-time viewing for television audiences hungry for football in the offseason. In 2010, the NFL moved the draft to three days from two, with the first round getting its own primetime Thursday slot. And, of course, the NFL is the television king with the annual Super Bowl as the United States' most-watched broadcast, drawing a record 111.5 million viewers in February.
The new film begins in Cleveland on the day of the draft with Weaver's girlfriend, Ali, played by Jennifer Garner, telling him that she is pregnant. To complicate matters, Ali is one of Weaver's top lieutenants as the Browns’ salary cap guru who makes sure certain players’ pay is structured not to violate pre-set limits.
“To be a good movie, it has to have real relationships at the center of it or the sports part of it really doesn't matter,” said Garner.
The film has little in the way of sports-action scenes but pulses forward with a ticking clock counting down the hours and minutes until the draft's first pick is unveiled.
“Football is the backdrop here for what is really a heist movie and a movie about a chess game between people as well as a real romance at the center of everything and a bunch of familial relationships that are all needing to be tended to on one crazy day,” Garner said.
Draft Day may be limited in its ticket sales due to football's limited appeal outside of North America.
“Will it bust out overseas?” Costner asks. “I don't know; I don't care. I know that we had to make this correct for us. It's a guy and a girl and the level of confusion that comes with relationships set against the backdrop of football.”