By Fred Topel | Image property of Universal Pictures
George Clooney may be the best actor/director of all time. I happen to have liked all of Mel Gibson's films, and probably more than half of Clint Eastwood's (don't ever forget he did Absolute Power and True Crime), but Clooney has really done something extraordinary each time out.
Leatherheads is an old time style verbal screwball comedy, kind of the same vibe as Intolerable Cruelty, which I thought was awesome, but in the more mainstream format of sports movies so hopefully it will do better. He even opens with the old Universal logo, which is just the Clooney touch of class.
The world where professional football is a joke is a cool place to start, but it's not the Semi-Pro of football. It's actually hardly about football at all. It's the triangle between a businessman, a reporter and a celebrity. Not even a love triangle, just a plot triangle which is even better. The football is just the background.
It's got the perfect wacky tone. Clooney mugs to be silly without ever losing his movie star cool. Renee Zellweger is at her sassiest since Chicago. John Krasinski gets to play a character who's not Jim from The Office.
The dialogue is sharp, full of witty banter and challenging leaps of conversation, suggestive but not vulgar. It is full of great substories each with little twists and punchlines. There are situational gags where even familiar setups pay off differently than you'd expect. There's even a guy getting hit in the nuts with a football, the old classic!
The character rivalry is smart, a real battle on everyone's part to achieve their objectives. It reminds you of how great a male/female movie relationship could be if it isn't automatically romantic. Even when it gets romantic, it's not the crux of the story. It's just a plot point to instigate developments.
It still ends with a big game, but the film is much more about the wheeling and dealing behind the games. There aren't even any stakes for the final game. It's mainly about the history of when football became structured and regulated. There's a bit of personal resolution but even that's not that deep.
I was thinking that the muddy uniforms in that last game might be a metaphor. It kind of made them all look like the army uniforms in the flashback scenes. Probably not though. The mud plays a more plot-centric role.
Leatherheads is the most brilliant comedy you'll see all year. George Clooney really is a master director. He can play with genre without ever making it feel alien to contemporary audiences.