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LEATHERHEADS

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce
Director: George Clooney
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 114 Minutes
Release Date: September 23, 2008

“You think you’re the slickest operator in Duluth, and maybe you are. But being the slickest operator in Duluth is kind of like being the world’s tallest midget, if you ask me.”

“It’s too bad we know each other so well. We might have gotten along.”

“Well, I’ll live.”

“ALONE.”

Film ***

Being a South Carolinian, Leatherheads holds a special place in my heart. A good bit of the film’s production was shot not too far from where I reside. When I first heard that George Clooney was going to be shooting his next directorial project in the upstate area, I was both extremely excited and proud.

 

At the same time, I wasn’t going to let one bit of bias go into my reaction to Leatherheads. But I didn’t need to worry about that because the movie is a rousing piece of entertainment. It’s Clooney’s most mainstream directorial effort to date, but it goes to show that as a filmmaker he can work well with various genres.

 

With this film, Clooney is putting on quite a balancing act. Leatherheads is a screwball comedy, a story about football, and a one of a kind throwback to the dialogue-driven romantic comedies of the 1940s. That’s quite a mixture for a film that comes close to a two hour running time, but Clooney handles the proceedings with the greatest of ease. It may have been a hard film to sell to a mainstream audience, but if there’s one thing I can say about the movie it’s this…it’s one hell of a crowd pleaser.

The story takes place in 1925, during the birth of professional football. Dodge Connelly (Clooney) is the team captain of the Duluth Bulldogs, a team that soars at playing the game at a time when the term “rules” weren’t associated at all. But the team finds itself broke after losing their sole sponsor at the beginning of their season.

So Dodge has to come up with a plan to secure the future of his team, and it doesn’t take long before one presents himself. Enter Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski), the top college player in the country. He also happens to be a celebrated war hero, having single-handedly helped in the surrendering a German soldier unit.

Dodge proposes that Carter leave college to play for Duluth. And since Carter’s war-hero status has already sparked a number of endorsement deals, immediate public interest in pro football should be guaranteed. Indeed, stadiums are soon packed with fans, but Dodge soon comes to grips with the fact that all of the interest is focused on America’s golden boy, Carter.

Also in the mix is Chicago Tribune reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), who is getting paid to profile Carter in the midst of his league transition. Carter, of course, is smitten with the snappy journalist and Lexie, in return, does show signs of flirting. However, she and Dodge have already ignited some flirting of their own.

I went into Leatherheads expecting mostly a football flick, and while it does have a number of uniquely executed game scenes, the area where it really shines is the romantic chemistry between Clooney and Zellweger, who are very much the modern day Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell. And you get the feeling, while watching them exchange words, that they don’t even have to try very hard in terms of turning on the charm…it just comes naturally. We’ve always thought of Clooney to be this generation’s Cary Grant, and this film, along with the vastly underrated Intolerable Cruelty, is the full proof that he is.

The movie also nails the look and feel of the 1920s through the flawless production design, courtesy of James D. Bissell. The music of Randy Newman and the cinematography from Newton Thomas Sigel, which has a unique color hue, also do remarkable job in conveying the feel of the era. To know that Clooney went to extreme lengths to get the setting right for a simple charming romantic comedy really illustrates his dedication to filmmaking.

If the film has a flaw, it’s only a tendency to drag a bit near the end as several plot conflicts are resolved. But that’s really just a minor complaint. That’s a common flaw that’s hard for many movies to escape.

In the end, this is a movie that achieves everything it sets out to be. It’s an awfully funny, engaging period piece that won me over instantly. It may not represent an elevation for Clooney as a filmmaker, but that’s only because he wasn’t setting out to make anything significantly important as his last two films, but rather something that just plain old-fashioned entertainment, and it’s certainly that!

Video ****

This stylish period piece gets a most fantastic anamorphic treatment from Universal. The image is thoroughly clean, crisp, and richly detailed from its opening shot and all the way to its fade out. The color appearance is another strongpoint, given the unique look to the film. The all around detail to the picture is most astounding, with not a single flaw in sight.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 mix turned out to be more effective than I was expecting. The film is more focused on dialogue than anything else, as it should be. However, thanks to the energetic, 20s style music score as well as numerous set pieces, the sound mix delivers the goods in multiple areas. The football sequences are also a big plus, as are several “screwball comedy” physical pratfalls.

Features ***1/2

Universal does this release quite nicely in the extras field. Starting things off is a most funny commentary track with George Clooney and producer Grant Heslov. Clooney balances filmmaking facts with a great sense of humor, never resisting an opportunity to poke fun at himself in the process. Also included are a number of featurettes, including “Football's Beginning: The Making of Leatherheads”, “No Pads, No Fear: Creating the Rowdy Football Scenes” and “George Clooney: A Leatherheaded Prankster”. Lastly, we get nine Deleted Scenes and an up close look at the Visual Effects Sequences, which there were actually quite a bit of.

Summary:

Leatherheads is a film that is simply impossible to resist, as it has loads of charm to spare. It’s also a top-notch piece of filmmaking courtesy of George Clooney. Whether you desire a sports movie, a screwball farce, or a classic style romantic comedy, the film delivers in all areas.

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