Leatherheads, director/star George Clooney's take on the origins of professional football, reintroduces the screwball comedy to modern audiences. Except for a few thematic elements and a random tame curse word, it could have--and maybe should have--been made between 1935 and 1945 instead of today. Clooney is so exacting in reproducing the era that produced classics such as The Awful Truth and Holiday, he even favors cranes, dolly tracks, and stationary camera work to help capture his shots instead of Steadicams, relying on himself and co-stars Renée Zellweger and John Krasinski to inject energy into the scenes.
Clooney plays Dodge Connelly, captain of the Duluth Bulldogs, a team of bruisers who, like the rest of so-called professional football, can't get any respect. The idea of turning football into a mainstream, profitable sport like baseball is all but dead in the 1920s, but Dodge won't let his dream die. That's where Carter Rutherford (Krasinski) comes in; a hero of the Great War, he's now college football's biggest star. Appealing to Carter's love of the almighty dollar, Dodge recruits the younger player and quickly launches his league into the spotlight. Meanwhile, Lexi Littleton (Zellweger), a hotshot Chicago journalist with her eye on an associate editor's position, has been sent to reveal Carter's war record as a fraud. A love triangle quickly develops, with Clooney in the archetypal Cary Grant role while Krasinski and Zellweger fill out the Jimmy Stewart and Katharine Hepburn slots for some The Philadelphia Story dynamism.
Dodge's ultimate dilemma is one that continues to haunt professional sports today. In order to save football, the thing he loves most in this world, he must sell it out and, by commercializing it, legitimize it. The legitimization of the sport meant rules, the very concept of which had been foreign to Dodge's game before; gone suddenly were the fun days of trick plays, dirty tricks, and the occasional all-team brawl. Nostalgia fills everything--the cinematography, the story structure, the theme--tapping into a fascination with the good old days that's usually only found in westerns. It's quite effective, too, except for the fact that Leatherheads tends to become bogged down in its antiquity. Funny and sweet, it's still a movie out of time, more relevant to filmmakers for its accomplishments than the average modern moviegoer.