George Clooney returns behind (and on) the camera for this third go as director with Leatherheads. Received critically mixed acclaim (as well as similar box office results), Leatherheads quickly left theaters after nine weeks despite appearing on nearly three thousand screens domestically. With about a fifty-fifty split when it came to the reviews, Leatherheads can be summed up by the word “uncertain”: audiences were uncertain about it and, worst of all, the film itself was uncertain what it wanted to be.
The beginnings of pro football are told in this third film from writer/director George Clooney. Dodge Connelly (Clooney) is the captain of a professional football league, but he’s anything but taken seriously. In an attempt to keep the sport alive, Dodge seeks the help of a big time promoter, only to find himself getting mixed up with college ball superstar Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) and feisty reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger). Soon, Dodge finds himself getting all that he hoped for, only to have it taken away in the last quarter.
It’s hard to tell what Leatherheads is exactly. On one hand it’s a history of the football sport and the other it’s a…romantic comedy? It’s such a strange pairing that I’m not sure how Clooney hoped to mix them together. The result ends up being something like a slightly overcooked piece of food—it’s not necessarily bad and may taste good in spots, but for the most part it’s just overdone and won’t go down as easy as if it had taken more time to be prepared. I realize I use food analogies a lot lately, but it’s the easiest way to get my point across—everyone knows food and when you can work that into a way to describe a film that’s not really all that easy to nail down, then it’s all the easier to relate what I’m thinking.
Even though I wasn’t sure what direction the film was going in from act to act, I have to say that I did still at least enjoy it. Clooney’s role as the smug Dodge created some entertaining moments and Krasinski really did a fantastic job in the role that pitted him against our star. Oddly enough Krasinski, despite being the one moving in on Dodge’s turf, manages to play the character in such a way that we neither hate nor love him. In fact, by the end of the film I just ended up feeling sorry for him as he never truly did anything wrong, he was just put in a bad position all around. In a way the films almost depressing because of it, but then you remember the street light fight between Krasinksi and Clooney and it all fades away.
The film is quite funny and the “old time” style of storytelling and use of images and music really pep up what would likely otherwise be a rather drab and dull film. You have to really be into the era though to fully get into it; I can see how some might be annoyed (the music does pop up a bit and when it does, it’s usually quite loud), but I really enjoyed that element of the film which I think is key to truly enjoy what’s happening on screen. The clothing and settings also help sell the time and the lack of being bombarded by the troubles of today’s world and being allowed to partake in a simpler time (although there was a massive stock market crash during this era too).
All in all Leatherheads is an enjoyable mash up of the 1920s, the early years of pro football and romantic comedy. It’s a strange mix and quite frankly it’s a bit of a strange movie, but I still enjoyed myself as it went along. It may be a bit pretentious at times, but that to me is part of its charm. Recommended.
Leatherheads arrives on DVD and Blu-ray with similar features, although the way you go about watching them is not at all similar. For this review I’ll be tackling the DVD which comes in your standard single disc amaray case, complete with a gift card for a popcorn website ($15 off minimum purchase of $25) and disc art that isn’t a mirrored surface (shocking!), but rather a plain blue with the title and disc credits cut into it. So while it’s not exactly the most exciting disc art, it’s better than the usual Universal standard and the menus, however simple as they are, are nicely done and easy to navigate.
Video for the release is what you’d expect from a modern film: crisp, clean and clear. I’ve no qualms with the transfer of the film and it just looks great overall, with solid color levels and detail. Audio is a simple Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that creates an enjoyable environment to view the film in. Alternate Spanish and French 5.1 tracks are also available, as are English SDH, Spanish and French subtitles.
The extras for the film are rather surprising, as there are not only quite a few, but they’re also a lot of fun to watch. First is an audio commentary with director George Clooney and Producer Grant Heslov. The pair make for an entertaining track and Clooney’s sense of humor keeps it alive for the most part, although they do frequently go quiet as they sit back and enjoy the film themselves. Although there are dry spots, Clooney does point out areas of influence and discuses how the story progressed with the production of the film.
The rest of the extras are split into a couple of areas. First up is around eight minutes of deleted scenes, which are rather frivolous and cut for obvious reasons. There are some interesting pieces here with an early indication of a rivalry between Dodge and Carter on the train, of which there are two different takes. The next extra is “Football’s Beginning: The Making of Leatherheads” (6:18), a general making-of documentary that is incredibly short in run time, but entertaining to watch none the less. “No Pads, No Fear: Creating the Rowdy Football Scenes (9:14) focuses on the football material shot for the film and making sure that it followed the appropriate guidelines of the era. Although you wouldn’t really peg this as a CGI filled film, there are a few SF/X shots which are focused on in “The Visual Effects Sequences” (5:33). Finally we have “George Clooney: A Leatherheaded Prankster” (3:30), where we see the director pull some jokes on his stand in football team in front of the green screen as they flop around needlessly in the mud and put them in awkward contortions in front of the green screen.
Overall this is a solid release and one that is at least worth a Rental. I still recommend the film, but whether you’ll watch it over again is really up to your ability to laugh at the occasional slapstick humor that fills the film as well as just how much you can allow yourself to come immersed in the films world.
Leatherheads is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.