11 April 2008


George Clooney’s new film “Leatherheads” seems to be wandering between two worlds. On one side is a relatively realistic period picture, depicting the formation and popularization of the National Football League. On the other side is a nostalgic view of the 1920s gleaned from classic early Hollywood screwball comedies.
There’s merit on both sides, particularly in the screwball portions. You have the familiar character types: the sassy female reporter, the blustery newspaper editor, the quiet pretty boy, and the more rugged and world-weary leading man.
The female reporter is Lexie Littleton, played by Renee Zellwegger, who is assigned to cover a supposed war hero turned college football star, Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski). She’s been tipped off that his combat stories may not be all true, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of it.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to save his financially scrapped NFL team, ‘Dodge’ Connelly (Clooney) has recruited Carter to lend his star power and skills to the team’s profile, launching them into the heights of victory and fame.
The central comedic conflict comes when Dodge and Carter both fall for Lexie, leading to a series of misadventures and drunken brawls. There’s no sense in saying anything more, because you can probably predict how it will end.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Clooney’s goal seems to evoke a bygone era, which fits the tale about the end of an era when people like Dodge could play football in a more interesting, albeit dishonest, way. The legitimization of football becomes the harbinger of doom for Dodge.
So while at times it seems uneven to be bouncing back and forth between screwball antics and a mellow swan song, it oddly enough seems to work. The film is consistently enjoyable, despite some plot devices being a tad out of place, like Dodge and Lexie dressing up as cops to escape a raid on a speakeasy.
But such over-the-top flourishes can be welcome, in a way. They keep things interesting and pique your interest before it has a chance to wane. It’s a hard balancing act to manage, but the cast is more than capable.
As a director, I think Clooney is still maturing. His previous efforts, the underrated “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind” and the overrated “Good Night, and Good Luck” showed good promise, and “Leatherheads” continues to show that potential, though it’s clear he hasn’t hit his peak. He still seems a little bit too concerned with style over story.
Still, it’s refreshing to see a group of stars led by such a socially-conscious figure as Clooney taking the time to let loose and have some fun. Watching his previous two films would not lead you to expect such lighthearted fare. In its own way, it’s quite the bold move.
It’s not a perfect film; few are. But it’s a riskier film than many have given credit for. With everyone so concerned about the future, it’s nice to see someone looking lovingly at the past. If it leads viewers to discover the old films it’s referencing, then I’m all for it.

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