Making the Grades
You can bet that as I write this, NFL coaching staff and scouts are scouring hours of game footage in anticipation of the 2014 draft that begins May 8. It’s a critical time for professional football teams hoping to up the numbers in their win column. So what better way to build up excitement for the event than to release the movie Draft Day, complete with personal appearances by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and a host of sports analysts, team CEOs and professional athletes.
There are already dozens and dozens of football films that focus on individual players, teams and even coaches. But Draft Day gives a different perspective to the sport. Sonny Weaver Jr. (Kevin Costner) is facing his first draft day as general manager of the Cleveland Browns. As one of the bottom teams in the league, he has a chance to snap up first round pick Bo Callahan (Josh Pence). It looks like an easy decision.
Yet a lot is going on outside the office, including the recent death of his father and an unexpected announcement from his girlfriend (Jennifer Garner). On top of that it seems every one has an opinion on how Sonny should play his hand. The team’s owner (Frank Langella) already has a Brown’s jersey made up with Callahan’s name on it. The head coach (Denis Leary) is threatening to quit if Sonny doesn’t choose the players he wants. Fans, commentators and even Sonny’s mother (Ellen Burstyn) also toss in their two bits about his selection decision.
The movie starts out as an unusual script about a single day, but it delivers in the end zone. Much of that is thanks to clever editing. Unlike a football game that takes place out in the open on the gridiron, the plays in this movie are made in draft war rooms, GMs’ offices and even on cell phones. A split screen with an updated edge brings both sides of the calls into view at the same time. And anyone who thinks peer pressure is aimed at teens only will have to rethink their view after watching Sonny badgered from every side. Luckily he manages to put his distracters behind him and take responsibility for his decisions—be they good or bad.
That can be a positive message for young viewers. But unfortunately the film comes with some other content that may be a problem for family viewers. Sonny’s attempt to keep his affair with a fellow employee secret smacks of irresponsibility, as do his angry outbursts (although they may be understandable considering the stress he’s under.) However the script’s use of frequent and sometimes strong profanities, crude sexual comments and crass anatomical terms may not be so easy for parents to justify. The amount of profanities shouldn’t be a surprise since the studio appealed the movie’s original R-rating for brief strong language in order to get a PG-13 rating. While there’s no doubt that some strong words fly during intense bargaining, the foul language doesn’t add to the storyline. (Too bad the script can’t take some tips from sportscaster Dan Dakich who has his own methods for keeping his language clean on air.)
Still there’s something to be said about a plot that can take backroom bickering over college football players and put it on par with international negotiations.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Draft Day.
Sonny Weaver Jr. faces peer pressure on many fronts from people who want to influence his draft pick. How are people swayed by peer pressure in the work place, at home, in their school or community? Why do they sometimes use the pressure as an excuse for a bad decision? Does Sonny take responsibility for his choices? How is that depicted?
How does the legendary football career of Sonny’s father loom over the new general manager? Can it be difficult to live up to the success of a parent or sibling?
Sonny is looking for a particular trait in prospective players. Why is it important to him that they can keep calm under pressure? What are the dangers when someone panics? How does that affect their ability to think through a situation?
Ali is in charge of keeping a cap on the team’s expenditures, but she manages the office in other ways as well. Why does she demand respect for the new intern? What are other ways she keeps things running well during a stressful event?
Lionsgate appealed this film’s initial MPAA rating, that awarded Draft Day an R for brief strong language. Read more about the decision.