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Leatherheads (2008)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 9/23/2008

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 9/22/2008

Ahh, the beginning of fall; Is there any better time of year? OK, so maybe the weather starts to get bad, but we have the opening of the football season. The NFL and college football are more popular than ever and millions flock to stadiums or turn to their televisions every weekend to take in this awesome sport. But, what was football like 80 years ago? That's an excellent question, and a promising premise for a movie. So, it's no wonder that George Clooney wanted to tackle this topic in Leatherheads. Unfortunately, the movie fails to score.

Leatherheads takes place in 1925 when college football was king. Carter "The Bullet" Rutherford (John Krasinski) is the star of the Princeton team who is beloved by the public. Not only is her great at football, but he's a war hero as well. Meanwhile, in Duluth, Minnesota, Jimmy "Dodge" Connelly (George Clooney) attempts to keep his professional football team afloat, as pro football is seen as something akin to a carnival sideshow. When Dodge learns that his team is about to fold, he suddenly gets the brilliant idea to convince Rutherford to join his team. Meanwhile, The Chicago Tribune gets a tip that Rutherford's war hero story isn't true, so they dispatch reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) to interview him. Just as Dodge convinces Rutherford and his agent, C.C. Frazier (Jonathan Pryce), that the bullet should join the Duluth Bulldogs, Lexie starts to get to know the young man. "The Bullet" is an instant hit with Bulldogs fans, and Dodge is glad to see crowds at the games, but a love triangle begins to develop between Dodge, Rutherford, and Lexie. Will she be able to reveal the truth and can Dodge keep the young player in check?

Leatherheads marks George Clooney's third trip behind the camera as a feature film director, and like his previous efforts, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Good Night, and Good Luck, this outing is set in the past. However, unlike those earlier films, Clooney was clearly going for something lighter in tone this time. While Leatherheads is based on actual events from the past, it doesn't go down the serious and somber road seen in Clooney's other films. If you are reading that as a positive, then you clearly haven't seen Leatherheads yet. The film could have used some seriousness.

Instead of simply setting the film in the past, Clooney has attempted to give Leatherheads the look and feel of an old movie...while still working in color. On the DVD's audio commentary, Clooney states that he avoided any modern camera moves so that it would feel like a period piece. That's an admirable move, but it doesn't explain why Randy Newman was allowed to fill the film with period music. So, instead of getting a standard film score, we are treated to wall-to-wall speak-easy jazz and banjo music which is not only annoying, but never fits the feel of a given scene.

Keeping with that same train of thought, some movies contain that one moment of no return -- the point where the film does something which loses the audience. A recent example was the dance scene in Spider-Man 3 (seriously, what were they thinking?). In Leatherheads, it's the moment where the movie becomes The Keystone Cops. The film hadn't exactly been a serious drama up until that point, but this scene throws the audience for a loop and will make many wonder if Clooney had any idea what he was doing.

The music and odd tone of the film aren't helped by the fact that Leatherheads does little to invite us inside. All three of the main characters, Dodge, Rutherford, and Lexie, are such blank slates that it's difficult to feel attached to them. When Clooney appears on-screen, most will want to like his character, but we are given so little to work with. There's little chemistry between Clooney and Zellweger and Krasinski seems lost. Things are even worse for the supporting characters, who wander in and out of the film.

Leatherheads came from a script by two Sports Illustrated writers and, again, a look at the early days of football sounds like a good idea. However, Clooney fumbles the snap and he's never able to get a play off. Someone did a great job with the period look of the film and the finale is admittedly clever, but the disappointing feel one gets from Leatherheads is the equivalent of going to see an NFL game and learning that a Pop Warner team will be playing instead.

Leatherheads takes a three-point stance on DVD courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one fullscreen and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain at times and no defects from the source material. The colors look good, as any bold color stands out against the film's muted backdrop. I did detect haloes around the actors shoulders on a consistent basis, and the image lacks in detail at times. The DVD contains a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The track provides some nice stereo effects and the football game crowds fill the rear speakers. Despite the fact that it's annoying, the music sounds fine. We get some subtle sub action from the football games.

The Leatherheads DVD contains a locker-room full of extras. We begin with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from George Clooney and producer Grant Heslov. This is a hit-or-miss chat, as the pair vacillate between giving information about the movie, concerning location, actors, etc, and joking about the movie. The odd thing is that neither seem very energetic, and the commentary drones on at times. The DVD contains 10 DELETED SCENES which run about 8 minutes. The only thing of interest here is a dinner with Dodge, Carter, and Lexie where they get to know one another. "Football's Beginning: The Making of Leatherheads" (6 minutes) contains interviews with the cast and filmmakers who describe the origins of the story and give an overview of the film's production. In "No Pads, No Fear: Creating the Rowdy Football Scenes" (9 minutes) we see the actors learning how to re-create the style of football played in the 20s, which is must different from what we see today. The cast members talk about the Director and star in "George Clooney: A Leatherhead Prankster" (3 minutes), and we get to see one of his elaborate jokes. "Visual Effects Sequences" (6 minutes) shows us how this seemingly straight-forward film contains hundreds of effects shots in order to re-create the historic period.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment has also brought Leatherheads to Blu-ray Disc. The film is letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The picture is very sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The ghosting which appears on the DVD is absent here and the image shows a nice amount of detail. The depth of the picture is impressive as well, and we often get a feel for the size of the football field. Colors are fine, but never overly bright. The Disc offers a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. We get nicely detailed stereo effects here, most notably in any scene containing a crowd. The football games sound great and the roar of the crowd can be felt from all channels. The music sounds good and the stereo placement in the opening scene with the Bulldogs is great.

The Blu-ray Disc also contains the AUDIO COMMENTARY from Clooney and Heslov. In addition, it offers a VIDEO COMMENTARY, which provides a picture-in-picture look at the duo as they comment on the movie. With the "U-Control" feature, the viewer can see behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast & crew via picture-in-picture. These pieces were taken from the extras seen on the DVD.

Review Copyright 2008 by Mike Long