Directed, and starring George Clooney, Leatherheads tells the tale of the earliest days of what would become the NFL. In the mid 1920’s, in the post World War I world, College football is the most popular sport, and not the struggling pro league filled with mostly middle-aged former soldiers, miners, and bricklayers. Once his team, the Duluth Bulldogs, is on the brink of financial failure, Jimmy “Dodge” Connelly (Clooney) comes up with a masterful plan to save the sport he loves.
While the pro sport is slowly dying, young college player Carter Rutherford (John Krasinksi from The Office) has the nation at his fingertips with his top level play, his boyish good looks, and his amazing story of courage from the great war that earned him both a medal of honor, and the nations love. Once the Chicago tribune gets an army source that reveals Carter’s story of courage to be false, free-spirited reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) is sent to interview Carter to try and force a confession, which would then debunk his story and fame.
Before she can get him alone, however, Dodge arrives with an offer to turn Carter pro and play for Duluth. Carter would make loads of money, and the pro sport of football would get much needed publicity and revenues to keep the sport alive. Soon, Carter and Dodge both begin to fall for Lexie in a classic love triangle, even as both Dodge and Lexie play young Carter from different angles to exploit him. Lexie eventually does get her story, but the twist is wiether or not she will go ahead and print it to save her career, or allow her feelings to get in the way.
Despite lackluster reviews in its theatrical release, I must say this film is surprisingly good. A clever, often charming period movie with a phenominal cast, Leatherheads is a delightful comedy. The movie is injected with a lighthearted innocence often lost in many of todays more modern-based comedies. While the movie can sometimes get a little too silly (look no further than a raid scene on a nightclub, and the ensuing chase of both Clooney and Zellweger), but it also sorta stays in keeping with the comedies of the time. The script by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly is very well written, if often predictable. Where the movie becomes surprising though, isn’t where it ends (which is predictable), but how it gets there. The fun little twists in the second half of the movie keep things interesting, and the movie wisely never overdoes the football scenes, which never are very thrilling. But, to be fair, I don’t think Clooney means for them to be.
The most fun thing to watch in this movie is the chemistry between the cast, in particular Clooney and Zellweger, who exchange quick snaps and insults in both charming and hilarious ways. Clooney plays his aging swauve athlete well, and with delectable charm, while Zellweger also plays her ambitious reporter very well, and quite adorably. Once the romance does start between them, and the attempts by Lexie to deny it, the real fun moments begin. Seeing these two current day Hollywood Legends onscreen together is a real treat for any movie fan, no matter how casual. The costumes, and set designs are all also amazing, and lend to the complete feeling of tranportation to this wholey different era.
Filled with humor, action, and great characters, Leatherheads is a suprisingly delightful comedy worth taking a look at. As a sports movie, it may not be the best, but as an historical sports movie it does play nicely to see the early days of football, and how the game changed with the influx of college players turning pro, and how it also happaned at the exact right time, the 1920’s, when America was a prosperous and carefree Nation with people willing to try new things and spend money on almost anything. Of course, we all know where the NFL is today, and its kinda fun to sit back and watch an offbeat, screwball, ’20s style romantic comedy about its humble beginnings.
The movie is a little light on plot, as I said it is very predictable as to who wins over Lexie’s heart, and what the “big final game” will be, but what makes this movie special is little moments. Little moments can often be overlooked in other films, but in the movie, it really is those charming moments of Lexie and Dodge bantering back and forth, or other funny moments that string this picture along. It is a character film above all else, and we’re meant to take this journey with the characters. Mostly, I just found myself smiling throughout the entire movie. Is it a great film? Not remotely, but it is fun and definetly worth seeing.