Revisited: Leatherheads

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

“Dodge” Connelly (George Clooney) is captain of the Duluth Bulldogs, a struggling professional American football team circa 1925. Dodge is determined to save both his team and pro football in general when the players lose their sponsor and the league is on the brink of collapse. He convinces Princeton University’s college football star, Carter “the Bullet” Rutherford, to join the Bulldogs, hoping to capitalize on Carter’s fame as a decorated hero of the First World War (like Alvin York, he single-handedly captured a large group of German soldiers). In addition to his legendary tales of combat heroism, Carter has dashing good looks and unparalleled speed and skill on the field. As a result of his presence, both the Bulldogs and pro football in general begin to prosper.

Chicago Tribune newspaper reporter Lexie Littleton becomes the object of the affections of both Dodge and Carter. Lexie has been assigned to find proof that Carter’s war heroics are bogus. Carter confesses that the surrender of the Germans was a lucky accident and that his role in it was more foolish than heroic. Carter soon discovers Lexie’s agenda and is doubly hurt when he learns that Dodge and Lexie are starting to show affections for each other and even shared a kiss. The ensuing fight over Lexie’s affections puts her off. Spurred on by the threats of Carter’s manager, she decides to publish the story.

The story sparks a firestorm of accusations and reprimands. Carter’s manager resorts to shady dealing to cover it up, even bribing the original witness to change his story.

Dodge’s attempts to legitimize pro football take a life of its own. The new commissioner formalizes the game’s rules, taking away improvisational antics. In addition, the commissioner takes the responsibility of clearing up the Carter controversy to set an example for the new direction of professional football.

With the whole world against Lexie (even the Tribune is pushing her to retract her story), Dodge concocts a clever ruse. Interrupting a private hearing in the commissioner’s office, Dodge threatens Carter with a confrontation by his old army mates. Dodge claims that they are just outside the door, ready to congratulate him for his heroic actions. In truth, the men are Bulldogs in borrowed Army uniforms.

Carter confesses the truth. The commissioner frees Lexie from printing a retraction. Carter is ordered to simply say he got too much credit for his war actions, but must give a hefty part of his paycheck to the American Legion. Carter’s conniving manager is banned from football as well. Dodge is warned that if he pulls any old tricks to win the next game, he will lose his place in the league.

Dodge plays in one last game. This time it will be against Carter, who has changed sides from Duluth to Chicago. The rivalry for Lexie’s affection spills onto the field.

The game does not go so well for Dodge, including how muddy the field is. Dodge decides football should be played without rules. Lexie notices that after a brawl, Dodge is missing and with most players covered in mud, no one can tell who is who. There appears to be an interception and Chicago seems to have won, but when the mud is removed it’s seen that the player is none other than Dodge Connelly, who disguised himself as a Chicago player on the play. The play is changed from an interception to a touchdown, and the Bulldogs win.

Carter mentions to Dodge that he is finished playing football, based on the threat the commissioner had made. He intends to tell the newspapers the real story about his “capture” of the German soldiers. Dodge argues that America “needs” heroes and it is implied the true story won’t be told. Dodge and Carter part on good terms once again.

After the game, Dodge meets up with Lexie and they ride into the sunset on Dodge’s motorbike, discussing with humor the possibilities in their future, which include bankruptcy, scandals and jail time. During the end credits, pictures show Dodge and Lexie getting married, Carter donating $10,000 to the US military and Carter’s former manager with new clients Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

REVIEW:

In a few hours, the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks will take the field in New York for Super Bowl XLVIII. While I wait to cheer on the ______, I figured why not make it an official tradition to watch a football film this day every year. Last year, there was Johnny Be Good and this year we get Leatherheads.

What is this about?

Hard-nosed sports reporter Lexie Littleton finds herself at the center of an acute 1920s love triangle when aging football hero Dodge Connelly and rising college star Carter Rutherford go head-to-head to compete for her affections.

What did I like?

Old school football. What was the last football film you saw or heard of that dealt with football from the 20s? You know, the time when guys played on both sides of the ball, didn’t make obscene amounts of money, and it was an actual team sport, not something for diva wide receivers and wimpy quarterbacks who cry to the commissioner when they get hit. Well, that’s what this is. Ideally, I would like for football to have been more center stage, but just the face that someone wanted to make a film like this (directed by George Clooney, btw) is enough…for now.

He’s got the look. If you’re going to make a film set in the 20s, then you need to find actors that look out of their time. That is to say, they need to look like they belong in yesteryear. When I watch Mad Men, I often say this about Jon Hamm. Some have said this about the likes of Scarlett Johansson, Ginnifer Goodwin, Jean Dujardin, Carey Mulligan, etc. George Clooney has that look as well, especially when he wasn’t showing his years (I blame directing duties). Jon Krasinski also fits the bill for this perfectly as the war hero football star.

History. Believe it or not, there is some historical significance in the story of this film as it brings us a bit of an introduction into how professional football began. I’m not sure on how much of this is historically accurate, but the basics are there, and some of the names were changed at the request of the NFL. As I mentioned, this is not a topic that filmmakers seem to want to…um…tackle.

What didn’t I like?

Football. You know, for a football film, there sure wasn’t a lot of football to be found. There is the first game we see early on and then the climactic scene at the end. I think there was one or two others, but they aren’t fully focused on like the bookend games. I get so tired of this sports films that do their best to do everything but show the sport they are about!

Did she just change her name? Renee Zellweger apparently has an affinity for the 20s. I half wonder if this character is just Roxie from Chicago who changed her name and got a career. It wouldn’t surprise me. Seriously, though, her character is supposed to be a hardened reporter with (self-proclaimed) great legs. I’m sorry, but these are not characteristics I apply to Zellweger and no matter how hard she tries, this character is not for her.

Sidekick. Where did they dig out Max Casella? Who is Max Casella? Well, if any of you remember Doogie Howser, M.D., he was Doogie’s (Neil Patrick Haris) best friend. Since then, he hasn’t been seen. At least that I know of. I guess Clooney was able to find him and gave in a somewhat small role. It isn’t that he does a bad job in this role, but rather is seems a bit of stunt casting to bring him back to the spotlight.

After watching Leatherheads, I appreciate some more history of professional football that I didn’t before. Watch some of the scenes involving how poor these players were and what they went through compared to the drama queen players of today and you’ll see why. That being said, the thing that should be sticking with me about this film is the slapstick Keystone cop type of comedy, but there just wasn’t enough of it for my taste. Rather they chose to dwell on the love triangle and nearly turn this into a drama. That attempt at genre splicing is what hurts the film more than anything. Still, I would say this is an ok watch if you’re in the mood for a football comedy. I just wouldn’t go out of your way to check it out.

3 out of 5 stars

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One Response to “Revisited: Leatherheads”

  1. […] Jr. “classic”,  Johnny Be Good and last year was the George Clooney underrated gem Leatherheads. This year, let’s have us some Texas high school football with Varsity […]

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