Leatherheads wants to be the Major League of 1920s pro football and, in some sense, it does succeed. It does produce laughs, it has a blast being set in the time period, and the writing is sharp. It’s the focus on such a small number of characters that flatlines it into mediocrity.
George Clooney, John Krasinski, and Renee Zellweger star in this football movie. Apparently, they’re the only people that matter to all of pro football. Zellweger is the reporter assigned to find out the truth behind Krasinski’s overdone WWI story as he enters into pro football. Clooney is the aging star, nearing the end of his career as the game passes him by right when Zellweger enters his life.
The interplay between these three characters is entertaining. Dialogue is always loaded with wit, funny comebacks, and clever zingers. Aside from the physical hijinks, it’s the dialogue that sells the era to the audience.
On the field, the football sequences are legitimately funny, although less so as the film moves on. Leatherheads feels like a comedy that should be loaded with quirky, funny, and likeable characters. Aside from Keith Loneker, almost none of the other players are given names or even screen time. It’s as if they don’t exist, and that means all of the in-game action needs to focus on two players. This leads to an amusing if contrived finale that exists purely due to a lack of character development.
As with other sports comedies like Major League or Slap Shot, the romance dilutes much of the humor. Despite some fun interactions among the starring cast, the pacing is thrown off by the contrived romance. It sends the film nearly to the two-hour mark, and many of the scenes involving Kasinkski, Clooney, and Zellweger could have (actually, should have) been trimmed. The entertainment value simply isn’t there.
Since there are so few films that deal with this era of pro football (and the term “pro” is tossed around loosely), Leatherheads does manage to feel different and unique enough to warrant its creation. Its sense of style nicely mimics that of the time while updating it, but the characters aren’t deep enough to make this well-rounded. If one of the three stars turns you off from the start, the entire movie is ruined as it has nothing to fall back on.
Leatherheads comes to Blu-ray looking phenomenal. Razor sharp, with strong color (despite being fairly muted in browns stylistically overall) and wonderful contrast, this is a jaw-dropping transfer. Detail is stunning, and every scene delivers in terms of depth. Whites can occasionally come off slightly overblown, although this seems part of the source and intentional. Black levels never waver, artifacting is never an issue, and the video couldn’t be any clearer.
Sadly, this DTS-HD track doesn’t deliver like the video. While a few stadium scenes liven up the sound field, other potential opportunities (such as a bar brawl) remain entirely front-loaded. Bass is flat, only kicking in with the soundtrack. One would think a train could deliver something on the low end. That said, the dialogue is always clear and never too low.
The film had a rough go at the box office, which may explain why the disc is barren of features. A commentary with George Clooney and producer Grant Heslov is the only thing in the extras menu. For the rest, you’ll need to sift through the entire film scene by scene to utilize the aggravating U-Control. Universal uses this far too often, and why these brief featurettes and interviews are not available any way other than picture-in-picture is baffling. That, and many of the features aren’t worth the time anyway.
The script was originally written in 1993, but was submitted to Universal production president Casey Silver. Unfortunately, he left the studio and the script sat around until Steven Soderbergh approached Clooney with the project who then accepted for a 2008 release.