Leatherheads (2008)

Directed by George Clooney
Written by Duncan Brantley & Rick Reilly

One of the things I’ve noted about this marathon, was the lack of old-timey football. Sure, the were a few early films which highlighted the “contemporary” game, but few have returned to that time to explore the early days of American Football, its stars and popularity within the culture, especially as it conflicts with the immense popularity of baseball in the first half of the century. So especially to pair this time period of the game with the slapstick comedic stylings and sensibilities of George Clooney, who also directs, seems to be the perfect marriage. But what transpires, charming and funny as it might be, lacks the edge and touch of perfection that I think comes with Clooney’s collaborations with Joel & Ethan Coen. And that makes me sad, to think, what would a Coen brothers sports movie look like!?

Dodge Connelly (George Clooney) and Carter Rutherford (John Krasinki) are at odds when it comes to their football notoriety. Dodge is an aging player on the Duluth Bulldogs, a pro team that relies on not following rules to win games, and very gimmicky gameplay to draw the few fans they can to pay the bills. Carter on the other hand is the famous Princeton college player, darling of America, who has also returned from World War I a war hero. The two are intertwined when Dodge comes to Carter to turn pro and save the professional game, while Chicago reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) begins to dig into the truth of Carter’s war story, while also wooing both men, causing a problematic love triangle.

The first half of this film is everything I wanted it to be. It has comedy, it has old timey football, it has interesting characters coming together to form an intriguing plot. The leads here are all quite good. Clooney is charming and sly as ever as Dodge as he attempts to position things just so for his childish pursuits to remain intact (playing football for a living), and Zellweger I was also extremely impressed by. They all seem to be playing to a certain old timey feel, giving the film the feel of an early era screwball comedy. Krasinski might be the only weak link. You can tell he is still very young and inexperienced, but you can also pick up on his charm and charisma. He plays the nice guy extremely well.

But ultimately, I ended up let down by the resolution of the film. As everything built and built and built, I wanted more when the ending came fairly flat. Perhaps the historian in me wanted more detail on the early game, the development from college to pro, the development of certain styles of play. For a football movie, the football aspects were covered mostly in the first thirty minutes, shifting to romantic comedy from there on out. As Carter’s story mirror’s so much of Red Grange, the famed Galloping Ghost who starred at Illinois before making the shocking transition to pro ball for the Chicago Bears, I wanted more from Carter’s impact on the game, his impact on legitimizing the pro game when college dominated the culture.

Because the film becomes a standard rom-com for the second half, it loses any steam it had built to that point. I almost don’t blame it. I mean Clooney, Zellweger and Krasinski in a love triangle screwball rom-com sounds like cinematic gold, but the writing lacks so much of what is necessary to knock this one out of the park, which brings me back to my original thought: the Coens. What does this film look like written/directed by the Coens? I certainly can’t dock the film for not being something else, but that dream merely highlights the deficiencies here. It’s fine for some mindless fun, and a unique look at the game of football, but count me as disappointed overall.

★★☆☆☆ – DIDN’T LIKE IT

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