Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, two writers for Sports Illustrated, penned the script for this movie, which Universal Pictures bought in 1991. Brantley and Reilly based their story on the "outrageous stories about Johnny Blood, an amazing halfback and defensive rover on a terrible team."
In his April 7, 2008, article, Brantley wrote that Johnny Blood was an obscure NFL Hall of Fame member who played for the Duluth Eskimos, a NFL team that folded in 1927, only a few years after the NFL itself was first formed.
Blood also played for Saint John's University in Minnesota. Blood was known for his rule-bending, for his being somewhat of an incorrigible rogue, a lush, a skirt-chaser, but loveably gregarious.
George Clooney stars as Dodge Connelly, a Johnny Blood-inspired, war veteran-turned-aging football player whose team is also in danger of folding. Dodge decides to build up his team by wooing a star collegiate player named Carter Rutherford, possibly inspired by Red Grange. All the while, Carter is being investigated by a sassy, newspaper reporter named Lexie Littleton, played by Renee Zelweger.
Brantley and Reilly infused their screenplay with the same charm and humor as The Philadelphia Story (1940) and The Thin Man (1934). The same, snappy dialogue and screwball comedy pervade. Clooney proves then to be the best choice, as he is the one movie star alive and working today who has the same look and presence as Cary Grant.
Clooney also directs. He mimics the style of those 1930 and 1940s films, subtly, not in a way to make us feel like we're watching one of those movies, but Clooney seems to be paying homage more than anything. As his third directorial feature, Clooney seems more comfortable behind the camera. As such, this film has less of a signature, or as personal a touch, as his previous.
In terms of acting, Clooney brings the same kind of performance as in Ocean's Thirteen or The Good German. Whether in a modern tale or a period piece, it's more of Clooney giving us his winsome personality. It's not like Syriana or Michael Clayton where Clooney is really digging into a character. This role seemed to be played more for fun.
Brantley wrote in his article that after Universal bought his script, it took the studio 15 years to green light the movie, meaning putting it into production. Brantley wrote, "Because of the growing importance of the international market, studios shy away from topics that don't play well overseas-like American football."
This is funny because at the end of the day this movie really isn't about football. Much like Brian's Song and Rudy weren't really about football. They were about people, and football was merely a backdrop. This Clooney film is selfsame. Despite the opening scene, a montage in the middle, and the final scene, you don't ever see football being played.
That said, I did enjoy this film and thought it was quite funny and quite refreshing. The film succeeds mainly because Clooney and Zelweger are fun to watch, as they do their Nick and Nora schtick. Zelweger is delightful and definitely comes across, possessing the spirit of Myrna Loy, Katherine Hepburn, or Rosalind Russell (His Girl Friday).
John Krasinski (star of NBC's The Office) is very good, as a young, clean-cut, handsome, yet humble, war veteran and star college football player. I've got no confirmation, but Krasinski's Carter Rutherford seems to mirror Red Grange.
Red Grange was an All-American in 1925 from the University of Illinois. Grange's swift and elusive running earned him the nickname "Galloping Ghost." In the movie, Carter's similar style has him nicknamed "The Bullet."
Many credit Red Grange and his great popularity for making professional football into a major spectator sport. In 1925, Red Grange left the University of Illinois to play for the Chicago Bears, which that year started drawing its largest crowds ever. His salary at one point was the highest in the league.
Needless to say, all of that happens almost exactly in the film. Krasinski never fumbles, as he catches and carries his scenes. He delivers again a cool, comedic performance, as his character in The Office, but far less annoyingly sarcastic. Clooney passes to him and Krasinski scores.
One particular scene is Dodge's first scene with Carter, at a dining table. Dodge seduces Carter to join his fledgling scene. The dynamic between the two here works very well and provides a good basis for when they become rivals later.
Clooney does add some interesting touches like sepia tone photomontages and a silhouette kiss that was very romantic. There's also a very funny scene where a speakeasy is raided due to Prohibition that erupts into a moment out of Keystone Kops.
The music of Randy Newman, who is known for his satirical, if not comical, and sports movie scores like The Natural, Pleasantville, and Seabiscuit, is perfectly blended. Yet, as in Good Night, And Good Luck, Clooney does drop his usual jazz break with R&B singer Leidisi. And, like with his Oscar-nominated feature, this film does spiral into an issue involving journalism.
This film was originally slated for release in December 2007 in the midst of football season, not five months later during basketball season and the start of baseball season. Yet, in the movie, a lot of growth and change occur to pro-football, and you watch, as Clooney's Dodge watches the end of an era. The title refers to the fact that early football players used to wear helmets made of leather rather than plastic.
A leatherhead, therefore, becomes a symbol of that lost era. He becomes a mark of that time when pro-ballers played on cow patches while bovine literally chewed the cud next to them. Men tackled each other in real grass and mud, and not on wimpy astro-turf, and men like Dodge were little boys who wouldn't grow up, who wouldn't let go of the way the game was supposed to be played, so play on!
Five Stars out of Five
Rated PG-13 for brief language
Running Time: 1 hr. and 54 mins.