April 6, 2008

Movie Review: Leatherheads

Leatherheads is a fictional story set in the 1920's centering on the rise of professional football. If you enter the theater with thoughts of seeing a real life story, guess again. I am sure there are real world references to the beginning of the professional sport, but I would definitely be at a loss when it comes to spotting them. Anyway, while this is definitely not a true story, it is definitely entertaining and distinctly different from what generally arrives on our screens these days. This is a movie that you sit and enjoy, I sensed no pretense in attempting to deliver anything beyond a fun movie. Well, while it is not a message movie, it is a movie that attempts to evoke a bygone era in more than one way. There is no denying how much fun this movie is, it is a fascinating experience that shows the potential of mainstream movies, not every film needs to fit into the Hollywood mold. No, it is not particularly groundbreaking, but it doesn't need to be.

As I sat in the darkened theater, there was one movie that kept popping into my head. It is not so much that they were similar (they are very different), but about the way they defied standard Hollywood conventions. Both films have taken their inspirations from the slapstick and screwball stylings of comedy in the 1940's. They do not subscribe to the sophomoric styles of most current comedies (not that there is anything wrong with that, when done right), rather they call to mind the films of Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges and those of stars like Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Barbara Stanwyck. However, rather than those names we get George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, Amy Adams, and Lee Pace. If you hadn't already guessed, the other film is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Both of these films come from the old school, evoking thoughts of those older films while still retaining a modern feel. They sidestep expectations to deliver an experience that, while not new, still feels fresh and gives a new audience renewed reason to look into Hollywood's past for the classics of yesteryear.

The year is 1925, college football is the talk of the town and Princeton star (and war hero) Carter "Bullet" Rutherford (The Office's John Krasinski) is the toast of the town. Meanwhile, on the other side of the tracks (so to speak), professional football is floundering, teams are folding and everyone is running out of money, despite the best efforts of aging pro star Dodge Connelly (George Clooney, who also sits in the director's chair). The third piece of the puzzle is an up and coming reporter named Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), sent to do a piece on Bullet, perhaps exposing his status as a war hero to be a less than truthful.

As our pieces come together, Dodge has an idea. His team has folded and the players have scattered to the winds, yet he holds onto his dream of playing professional ball, this is where that idea comes in. He spies Bullet on the television, recognizes his audience drawing power and plots to use that to help legitimize the sport. So, off he goes to lure Bullet to leave school and join the professional circuit. At the same time, Lexie arrives to begin work on her story, becoming a sports reporter as a by product. It is only a matter of time before the pieces fall into place, but what does the final picture look like? Watch and find out.

This movie is a love story at its heart, although there are a couple of potential targets. There is the obvious choice of football, where Leatherheads can be seen as a lovesong to the dawn of a very popular sport and the growing pains it goes through. On the other hand, there is the romance that develops between Dodge and Lexie and Bullet. Through all of the love are some wonderfully fast paced and quick-witted exchanges, some verbal sparring, the likes that are rarely seen these days.

Leatherheads is a lot of fun, from the opening frame to the vintage appearance of the stills in the credits, this movie is flat out enjoyable. It is refreshing in its approach, successful in its execution, and there is no reason not to enjoy it. The performances are all first rate, in particular the effort from Clooney who can cock his head like no one else. He nails the performance. Meanwhile, Renee Zellweger proves to be simultaneously sexy and annoying, and is still successful at bringing Lexie to life. There are few actresses that are able to have that kind of effect, and she leads the pack. As for John Krasinski, this goes a long way towards erasing the misstep that was Licence to Wed. The supporting cast is also solid with work from the likes of Stephen Root and Jonathan Price.

George Clooney proves once again what a talent he is behind the camera. With only three films under his belt, he delivers another film that is very entertaining, of high quality, and marches to the beat of his own drum. He may be a big Hollywood name, but he knows how to make a quality film that doesn't fit the mold.

The script is also quite good, sure it may slump a bit here and there, but it works and is laugh out loud funny. In addition to the main story, it also touches on some interesting aspects that spark thought, but are not there to beat you over the head. The first is the idea that when a hero is needed, one is created. This is personified by Bullet's war hero status and the nature of Lexie's reporting. The other is the change of professional football from a passion for the likes of Dodge, who just wants to play the game and have a good time, to a business with the introduction of money.

Another interesting note that came to light recently regarding the script, credited to Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly. George Clooney has parted ways with the WGA when the declined to give him credit. Clooney claims to have re-written all but two scenes from the original script, which was penned back in 1993. I am not sure if this will have any long-term ramifications, but I found it an interesting piece of news related to the film.

Bottomline. This movie was a blast. Laugh out loud funny, well acted, well directed, and well written. It lags a little at points, and the climax is not entirely satisfying, but there is absolutely nothing to make me dislike it. Rather, Leatherheads is a movie to be seen and enjoyed. It is something a little outside the norm and that is always a good thing.



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