Leatherheads

Leatherheads

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

First things first: Leatherheads isn't an American football film. Though it tells the story of the formation of the NFL, this largely functions as a background to its central romance, and sports fans approaching it because they want to see some on-field action are likely to be disappointed. On the other hand, those who would normally feel put off by such content shouldn't let the film's appearance deter them from going to see it. It's an excellent piece of work.

Director and co-writer George Clooney plays Dodge Connelly, a man who has spent all his adult life playing pro football, a man who has little means of getting by without it. It's 1925 and the sport is poorly financed - but oddly, college based football is incredibly popular. Dodge hits upon the idea of persuading a college football star to join his team and suddenly the fans and the money start rolling in. But also along for the ride is Lexie Littleton (Renée Zellweger), a journalist intent on producing an exposée about the young hero, Carter (John Krasinski). When both Dodge and Carter fall for Lexie, everything points to catastrophe.

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Leatherheads is an old fashioned romantic comedy in the vein of Bringing Up Baby or Adam's Rib, with a hero and heroine who start out despising each other and exchange some elegantly vicious lines. The dialogue is snappy throughout with Clooney channeling Cary Grant to great effect, laconic and witty, and Zellweger sizzling in her sharp little red outfits, every inch a match for him. Carter, of course, is out of his depth, but Krasinski endows him with a humanity which makes his very ineptitude sympathetic. The two leads also make great use of their capacity for exaggerated gestures and cartoonish expressions during the film's numerous episodes of slapstick. These are expertly handled and enormous fun. From football games to chase sequences, they benefit from superb choreography and perfect timing. No awkward loose ends are left danging and nothing is overexplained. The pacing is spot on and the film is always engaging.

Leatherheads is beautifully shot and could be quite absorbing to watch even if nobody spoke. Its carefully chosen colour palette strengthens the sense of period and it features excellent lighting work. The film also enjoys a lush jazz score which makes it a treat for the senses from beginning to end. And just to make sure you don't feel overburdened by all this, the story is cheerfully irreverent. Football, when it happens, is celebrated as a game which is as much about hiding the ball inside one's shirt and hitting the other guys over the back of the head as anything else, such behaviour being in itself a display of skill; there's a rather melancholy sense of it being the end of an era as rules are introduced.

If somebody had described this film to me before I saw it, I'd have laughed and said "Oh, no, they don't make 'em like that any more!" I'm very glad I was wrong.

Reviewed on: 10 Apr 2008
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Leatherheads packshot
It's 1925, and an aging American football pro trying to make the sport a success falls for a journalist out to bring down one of its biggest stars.
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Director: George Clooney

Writer: Duncan Brantley, Rick Reilly, George Clooney

Starring: George Clooney, Renée Zellweger, John Krasinski, Jonathan Pryce, Stephen Root, Wayne Duvall, Keith Loneker

Year: 2008

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: US

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