Friday, May 11, 2012

Leatherheads (2008)

Clooney Tackles Comedy

- On top of being one of the most celebrated actors of our day, George Clooney is also an accomplished director of such films as Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind (2002), Good Night And Good Luck (2005) and The Ides Of March (2011). Of the four films that Clooney has directed, 75% of them are (in general) politically inclined dramas but his 2008 comedy Leatherheads is a delightful departure. A modern remix of the classic screwball comedy genre set in the 1920s, Leatherheads is a very enjoyable film; not one of Clooney's best pictures but sorely underappreciated.

Clooney stars as Dodge Connelly, an aging veteran in the infant era of professional football when shenanigans and dirty play were simply part of the fabric of the game. As the longtime captain of the Duluth Bulldogs (Clooney wanted to name the team after the actual 1920s Duluth squad the Eskimos but the NFL would not allow it since the film featured drinking), football is really all that Connelly knows - that and getting under people's skins - and he finds himself being left behind as the nature of football begins to change. Because the Bulldogs are going under due to lack of fans and funding, Dodge is forced to bring in Carter "The Bullet" Rutherford (John Krasinski), college football sensation and war hero, to fill the seats and keep the team alive. But complications arise when Chicago Tribune writer Lexi Littleton (Renée Zellweger) steals the hearts of both Dodge and Carter while trying to expose Carter's war record.

Leatherheads is a refreshing, rebellious throwback to the early screwball comedy genre. The film's greatest strength is the way in which Clooney employs a vintage visual and comedic style that mirrors the madcap screwball comedies of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. The Roaring Twenties are presented in this film with the glamor and panache of Hollywood's Golden Age in a way that uniquely compliments the mud-slinging old-fashioned style of football. The audience is further transported to the 1920s with very effective production design and wardrobe teams as well as a swinging Randy Newman old-timey score.

Naturally, Clooney assembles a great cast for the film. John Krasinski of NBC's "The Office" is perfectly cast as the all-around boy wonder Carter Rutherford, Renée Zellweger invokes a Rosalind Russell brand of 20s tough-girl reporter through her performance of Lexi Littleton, Jonathan Pryce makes for one hell of a slimy agent as Carter's cutthroat agent CC, and Stephen Root is incredibly funny as the sleepy, drunken small-town writer Suds. Clearly, Clooney called in the right amount of favors, each actor in the film is memorable and makes their characters likable. Clooney himself is his full definitive swing; an echo of his Coen Brothers comedic persona as the pathetic but charming Dodge Connelly.

Although quite enjoyable, Leatherheads is ultimately not Clooney's strongest directed film. Clooney's talent for visual style, the likability of the cast and the effectiveness of the film's humor makes for a fun 114 minutes but the story is difficult to become engaged with. The specifics of the plot move the film along in an amiable way but the flow is off track, lacking the fluidity necessary to bring the story to life. The story strolls along and acts as an entertaining foundation for the characters to act and react upon but it never forms into anything resembling a climax. It's a shame. Leatherheads has a lot to enjoy and admire but simply cannot make the cut of a great film.

CBC Rating: 7/10

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