In the 1920s college football was wildly popular in the U.S.
Pro ball didn’t even exist in the form that it does today. Rules and regulations were limited and games could be a free for all.
JIMMY “DODGE” CONNELLY (GEORGE CLOONEY) is the star quarterback and manager of the Duluth Bulldogs. Times are hard. The fledgling league has little support. Attendance is down. But Dodge – ever the artful optimist – comes up with a plan. He decides to recruit Princeton running back/World War I hero CARTER RUTHERFORD (JOHN KRASINSKI).
Things go fairly smoothly until enterprising Chicago journalist LEXIE LITTLETON (RENEE ZELLWEGER) enters the fray. She has a hot tip that Carter may not be the squeaky clean daredevil that he’s supposed to be. So she arranges to meet with the team and to go on the road with them.
Dodge is fascinated by her immediately. This petite, fast talking, sassy blonde – with the shiny hair and the voluminous legs – is unlike anyone he has ever come across in all his years as a bachelor. What complicates matters is that Carter has eyes for her as well.
Mr. Rutherford turns out to be as decent, genuine and upright as Jimmy Stewart in a classic Hollywood fantasy. However, he confides to Lexie (in a moment of utter candour) that his reputation as a hero has been inflated enormously.
He did get a group of German soldiers to surrender but it was entirely accidental. It was an incident that was reported and went completely out of his control. He’s been keeping quiet out of respect for his troupe and because he doesn’t want to compromise anyone.
Lexie is torn. She likes Carter. A LOT. But she has a job to do (that she takes very seriously) and her ambition has propelled her to this point. She has been promised an assistant editorship if the story breaks. She decides to get it published and, predictably, all hell breaks loose.
Mr. Clooney (who also directed) has an excellent grasp of the period. (It’s reminiscent of the ROBERT REDFORD film THE NATURAL. They’re both evocatively scored by RANDY NEWMAN and the cinematography – so much is bathed in a beautiful golden glow – is very similar as well.) The costumes are glorious, the songs are fantastic and the production design is authentic and thoroughly snazzy.
Terrific support is also provided by the wonderful STEPHEN ROOT (who plays a hard drinking reporter). There is also the brilliant JONATHAN PRYCE. His C.C. FRAZIER is the kind of charming amoral machiavellian that you would expect a typical sports agent to be. Even way back when. C.C. could land on his feet in a whorehouse.
Ms. Zellweger is wonderfully talented. Unfortunately, she is never completely convincing as Lexie. She often seemed to be reaching. Mr. Krasinski is both adorable and delightful to watch. However, he was curiously lacklustre as well. It seems that they were both miscast. Yet, oddly enough, they do create a few sparks in their scenes together.
Renee and George have little chemistry at all. Their repartee (while amusing enough) never really gets into the correct rhythm. This should be a strong element to their pairing but it’s just not at the level that it needs to be.
But there are a few moments when it really does go right. SPECTACULARLY. One of them involves a scene in a speakeasy where they dance to a jazz singer performing THE MAN I LOVE.
You never want it to end…
Mr. Clooney’s acting and his direction (to a lesser extent) are among the biggest assets to this production. He was born to play Dodge. Dodge is a bit of a rogue but he has his own code of honour. He does have principles. Just prefers to keep them private. This is finely illustrated by a particular action he takes right at the very end of the film.
This is one of the best comedic performances that George has ever given. He is so dashing, charismatic and incredibly handsome in this (especially with the gorgeous distressed leather jacket and the motorcycle) that he is the virtual embodiment of cool masculine energy. You certainly couldn’t blame Lexie for giving him a second (or even a third) look. But she softens up much too easily.
As a comedy, the film generally succeeds. But it is what it is. This is light entertainment and your expectations can’t ever go beyond this.
In spite of all that, LEATHERHEADS is tremendous fun.