Before the career double-gut-punch of ‘Waterworld’ and ‘The Postman’, Kevin Costner was in a class of his own playing ageing, unsatisfied athletes. His movies weren’t about sports, per se, so much as a maturing man’s frustrations (romance and life as well as baseball and golf). There’s still no American actor who does this as persuasively, and ‘Draft Day’ is a rascally return to form. Costner is the general manager of a Cleveland American football team staving off the pressures of a title-hungry owner (oily, private-jet-cruising Frank Langella).
Unlike ‘Moneyball’, a more accessible locker-room drama, ‘Draft Day’ – tightly directed by Ivan Reitman (‘Ghostbusters’) – has the potential to alienate the sports averse. There are many scenes of tense phone calls, player trades and handwringing moments of doubt, as the fortunes of a city’s jersey-clad faithful rise and fall during the NFL’s annual televised draft. But Costner anchors it with gravity and charm; you don’t need to understand two-point conversions or rushing yards to realise this film is a Hail Mary pass back to the actor’s glory days.
Elsewhere, some of ‘Draft Day’ feels perfunctory, especially its romantic angle involving Costner’s much younger assistant (Jennifer Garner), always there to remind him of his principles. Go, instead, for the rare sight of a Hollywood film intensely interested in the subtleties of a minute-by-minute process – and, of course, to watch an old dog get the scent again.