Once an actor becomes a superstar in Hollywood and is bankable commodity, they can pretty much appear in any movie they want. Most superstars in the acting world will then transition into the directing world. But since most big-time movie stars have an even bigger ego, they also want to act in the same movies they direct. That means they must really love the material that they are working with. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone else around them will love it just as much. Call it “tunnel vision” if you want, but most of the time films with directors that are known for acting are only average and nowhere near the best film those actors have been in. George Clooney is such an actor as he has directed two films in the past, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck. Both were above-average films, but now Clooney is hoping to hit an even bigger home run with his third directorial effort, Leatherheads.
In Leatherheads, Dodge Connolly, (George Clooney), is the leading player of the Duluth Bulldogs, a professional football team in 1925: a time when professional football teams didn’t have a very good reputation. After his team loses their sponsor, Dodge decides to recruit the most famous amateur player in the country, Carter Rutherford, (John Krasinski), to the Bulldogs, and works out a deal with Carter’s agent, CC Frazier, (Jonathan Pryce). Meanwhile, at the request of her editor, Harvey, (Jack Thompson), ace reporter Lexie Littleton, (Renee Zellweger), sets out to expose Carter, who is alleged to have captured a German unit single-handedly during World War I, as a fraud.
George Clooney has shown that he can be funny in some of his previous films, O’ Brother Where Art Thou comes to mind almost immediately, as well as proven that he can be a more than capable leading man in a typical romantic comedy like Intolerable Cruelty. He just needs the right cast around him. Once again he leads a great cast with help from Renee Zellweger and John Krasinski. Zellweger has had plenty of experience with romantic comedies before, so she can easily play off Clooney reasonably well. Their chemistry together is not outstanding, but it is good enough. Krasinski hasn’t had much film experience before this one, but being on The Office has given him more than enough experience with giving and taking jokes in just the right way. Clooney, Zellweger, and Krasinski are really good casting choices. Although, sometimes they all appear to be trying to hard to make the material work.
The script is really the main weakness of this film. It tries to be good at too many things at once instead of narrowing the focus and being great at only one or two things. We are made to believe that this is a screwball football movie, but then there is the “romantic comedy love triangle” taking center stage over the football scenes more times than not. There is also a sub-plot of war heroism and falsification of such war stories. In addition, there are commentaries on cheating in sports, the power of league commissioners, the importance of football in American culture, and journalistic ethics. So there is a lot going on in this movie, but in the end Leatherheads is still not saying a whole lot with any substance.
What does work in this film above everything else is the look, sound, and feel of the film. This movie is set in the 1920s and it’s look like it could have been made in the 1920s. That is to the credit of the people behind the cinematography, set designs, costumes, and music. The colors are muted just right, the sounds and music on target, and the rapid fire dialogue seem to come straight from this time period. This film is definitely detailed-orientated, and you get the feeling that Clooney loves classic films, since it appears that he he is well on his to becoming the next Cary Grant or Clark Gable.
Leatherheads had the right idea at first, when it focused on the early days of professional football. That is a subject that has not been explored much before. But then Clooney and fellow screewriters (Sport Illustrated’s and now ESPN’s own, Rick Reilly, and writing partner, Duncan Brantley) start throwing in more ideas and storylines that this film couldn’t handle. At least the cast is charming enough and they do a good job with some occasional overacting, but they try hard to make this film better. They can’t overcome the lack of focus of this film, though. Everything looks and feels good in Leatherheads, but underneath the surface this film is a complete mess that is only average and unmemorable.
The video is given in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen color, which is enhanced for 16:9 TVs. The colors come across in just the right way. As it was mentioned before, the look of this film is one of the best aspects of it so the video transfer is very good. No major problems at all.
The audio included is available in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound, or French 5.1 Surround sound. There are subtitles available in English, Spanish, and French. The time period peerfect dialogue and music come out loud and clear, so no major problems here either.
Audio Commentary –
There is a full-length commentary with George Clooney (actor/director) and Grant Heslov (producer). This is a great commentary track for the simple fact that Clooney was both an actor in this movie and was an active behind-the-scenes participant. So he keeps things entertaining and gives out information at the same time. So check this out after watching the movie.
“Footballs’ Beginning: The Making Of Leatherheads” Featurette –
This runs 6 minutes and it’s your standard making-of featurette. We talk to various members of the cast and crew about the real origins of the story and the inspiration for the 1920s style. It’s short, but does what it needs to do.
“No Pads, No Fear: Creating the Rowdy Football Scenes” Featurette –
This runs 9 minutes and it’s all about filming the football scenes in this movie. They wanted to make it look like real professional football from the 1920s. We mainly talk to the coach/historian who advised Clooney and the actors on the football scenes. There should have been more of this type of stuff in the film, so very interesting to watch.
“George Clooney: A Leatherheaded Prankster” Featurette –
This runs 3 and half minutes and it shows George Clooney giving his football team a hard time by putting them through some unnecessary re-shoots involving mud and humiliating positions in front of a green screen. A little taking advantage of his “director” role, but still fairly funny.
“Visual Effects Sequence” Featurette –
This runs 5 and a half minutes and it looks at how the football scenes were visually enhanced. This included building entire stadiums and adding the crowds around the scenes. The featurette is mostly a split screen comparing the original footage and the visually-enhanced footage. Pretty cool to watch.
Deleted Scenes –
There are 9 deleted scenes that didn’t make the final cut of the film. These total 8 minutes. None of them are “must-watch”, but there are some more scenes from the football field and locker room and more insight into the business practices of Jonathan Pryce’s agent character.
Fans of Clooney, Krasinski, or Zellweger will enjoy Leatherheads and might consider buying it. I really can’t recommend anything but a rental for everyone else, though. It wants to be more, but it’s only an average romantic comedy/football screwball slapstick comedy/war commentary/journalistic commentary/sports commentary film. It’s still worth a rental because there are some interesting ideas everywhere, and it looks and feels great with a solid cast.
Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents Leatherheads. Directed by George Clooney. Written by Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly. Starring George Clooney, Renee Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Root, Jack Thompson, and Wayne Duvall. Running time: 114 minutes. Rated: PG-13. Released on DVD: September 23, 2008. Available at Amazon.com.