How do you choose?
That is a critical and daunting question for anyone. And a defining one, too. How can we take what we know now and figure out what we will need in the future?
In this film, set in the course of one taut, tick-tock of a day, Sonny Weaver, Jr. (Kevin Costner), manager of the Cleveland Browns football team, has to decide. Should he trade all his future draft picks to get this year’s number one? If he picks the one everyone else thinks is this year’s most valuable choice, will he have to forego the one only he believes to be the most valuable?
Weaver is under a lot of pressure. The team’s owner (Frank Langella) and coach (Denis Leary) have their own ideas about what Sonny should do. His much younger girlfriend Ali (Jennifer Garner), who also works for the team, is pregnant. His mother (Ellen Burstyn) thinks that this day is the best time to spread the ashes of his late father on the training field.
If that sounds like it gets pretty soapy, you get the picture. Really, this is the day to spread his father’s ashes? Really, the 59-and-looks-it Costner is paired with the 41-and-looks-31 Garner? And even though she works for the organization and lives and breathes football, this is the day she decides to tell him she’s pregnant? Really?
Nevertheless, the mechanics of the arcane (to non-fans) system are fascinatingly put in place by screenwriters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph and then played like a musical instrument by director Ivan Reitman. As Sonny trades future picks back and forth with other managers who are doing the same kinds of now vs. future and salary cap vs. budget calculations, the plot pings back and forth like a pinball machine. Like the “Moneyball” scene where Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill trade phone calls and players in a masterfully orchestrated round robin of bluff and strategy, this gives us a look at off-the-field maneuvers as suspenseful, as skillful, and as intense as anything we will see on the field. Unlike “Moneyball,” this is not about the metrics. Sonny is acting on old-fashioned judgment. He knows that skill matters. Everyone knows that. But Sonny also knows that character matters, maybe more than anything else.
That’s true of movies, too, and Costner’s shaggy integrity is what makes him this movie’s MVP.
Parents should know that this film includes some strong language and crude references.
Family discussion: What does it mean to say the battle is won before it is fought? Should the draft rules be changed? Who should decide, the manager, owner, or coach, and why?
If you like this, try; “The Replacements,” “The Damned United,” “On any Sunday” and “North Dallas Forty”