Saturday, April 5, 2008

Review: Leatherheads (2008) [Reviewed By David Dominic DiMichele]


***1/2 Out of ****
Directed by George Clooney
April 5, 2008

Tolerable or intolerable it’s really undeniable to denounce Mr. Clooney’s contagious charm. Contagious because he’s one of the few actors whose charm jumps off of the screen and makes the audience feel the same remarkable charm. His performance here is silky smooth. In a topsy-turvy world of movies, especially recent comedies, George Clooney indulges moviegoers with a film that has smarts, charm and heart without the use of vulgar language and without showcasing a foray of sexual activities.

As director ("Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" and "Good Night, and Good Luck") for the third time, he conceals any deliberate sex with such witty and slapstick dialogue that legendary director Billy Wilder used so effortlessly. That’s credited to first time writers from "Sports Illustrated" Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly. Clooney relishes the fact that how huge his superstardom actually is and with that he can make movies how he wants them to be; nostalgic. He marches to his own beat.

The idea always crossed my mind; now with "Leatherheads" my idea has seen the promise land. I always had observations that Clooney had some characteristics of the great and handsome leading man Cary Grant. Having "Leatherheads" represent the lost genre of screwball comedies of the 1940s, Grant was the master. He easily could’ve played Clooney’s role here. Some movie buffs might conjure up the fact that this film can be a distant cousin to Howard Hawks’ classic ’40s screwball that starred Grant in "His Girl Friday." What was lost is now found and possible again by Clooney.

Right off the bat Clooney showcases what will become a norm for the entire movie: settings that dazzle our eyes from packed stadiums, dark train rides, bar fights that lead to players and soldiers singing with all their heart "Over There" and a lavish hotel. All these have one thing in common and that is the aroma of musky romanticism.

Circa 1925 and college football is the high spot on the totem pole. Not to mention it occupies the biggest and best sports star of the time Carter "The Bullet" Rutherford (John Krasinski). A war hero- whose claim to fame is taking out a trench full of German soldiers single handedly- that the media pumped up to increase the support that the war needs and to create a surreal figure for people to look up upon.

Cut to another scene when the aging player/owner/newspaper writer Dodge Connelly (Clooney) and his pro football team, the Duluth Bulldogs, are hosting a game with a handful of fans, a rundown field where cows call home and with only one football. It’s a scene that indicates pro footballs rank at the time, just a hobby that grown man did to pass time. The period in time when the player’s main job was to work the mines, machineries or fields and after they would go get their booze and start fights.

As Dodge’s team is about to sink, just as the league itself, he tempts the prodigy Rutherford, as well as his conniving agent (Jonathan Pryce), to sign with Duluth in desperation that he’ll the rise the income, lure fans from everywhere and maybe find the future of professional football.

All the while this is occurring; Miss Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) performs her role as a femme fatale Chicago journalist. Her job: to get all lovey-dovey with Rutherford and try to exploit his military stories as a lie. Of course Dodge will try to find his way to Littleton’s heart (dialogue exchange between these two is satisfaction guarantee).

This in turn creates a rivalry between the first prodigy of professional football and the first legend. Their battleground is a swamp like environment field which pits a set of newbies, with a set of new rules that will change the game forever, against the old timers, led by Dodge, who still drink heavily before every big game.

There’s a whiff of fresh air when Clooney gets behind the camera. Not only does he demonstrate a love triangle but puts his thumb on the evolution of pro football; salary cap issues, a commissioner being appointed, free agents and endorsements. A time in football when all we have is black and white photos, Clooney extracts colors from an unlimited palette and gives this history the life it needs. He knows what Hollywood is lacking, and what it’s yearning for, and serves up what he feels is the anecdote to such crude comedies that wouldn’t cut it in the 40s.

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