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Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

GEORGE Clooney’s third film as director may struggle to find an audience and is as flawed as its principal characters but darn if it isn’t a hopelessly enjoyable experience to boot.

A romantic comedy-drama based around the early days of professional football in 1920s America, it’s a nostalgic throwback to the era of Capra, Gable and Grant that gets by on the charm of its performers and its nostalgic attention to detail.

Aging football star Dodge Connelly (Clooney), the guiding light of the fading Duluth Bulldogs, aims to halt the decline of pro football by enticing one of college football’s brightest prospects onto his team. Carter “The Bullet” Rutherford (The Office‘s John Krasinski) is that prospect, a blue-eyed wonder boy and First World War hero whose clean cut image and all-American values prove invaluable in reviving Dodge’s fortunes.

But is he too good to be true? That’s what ace reporter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger) aims to find out, with a view to landing the deputy editor’s desk. Trouble is, she quickly finds herself torn between the two men.

One suspects that Leatherheads shares plenty in common with Clooney’s own sensibilities as a professional, with the rule-makers of American football serving as a nice metaphor for both the accountants now running Hollywood and the bureaucrats currently running the country, his resourceful charmer a beaming icon for the way things were and a poster boy for the spirit of the individual.

It’s all the more pleasurable, then, to see him get one over the establishment on-screen, even if he has his work cut out beating the gloomy box office predictions away from it.

Leatherheads is not a perfect film by any means. Thematically, it’s a hard pitch to sell and it’s prone to self-indulgence. Its comedy is sometimes uneven (flitting between romantic and slapstick) and it’s 20 minutes too long.

But for those willing to give it a shot there’s plenty to admire and even savour, not least Newton Thomas Sigel’s lush cinematography, which succeeds in recapturing a bygone era, and Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly’s witty script.

Clooney is a typically charismatic leading presence in front of the camera, his Dodge Connelly combining the smooth romanticism of Clark Gable and Cary Grant with some of the screwball goofiness of his ‘O Brother Where Are Thou persona. Contemporary viewers may also note a touch of the Bull Durham about him.

Zellweger, meanwhile, purrs her way through proceedings and proves more than a match for Clooney during their quick-witted banter but, crucially, shares a strong chemistry with her co-star, and Krasinski nails the stoic, all-American values of “The Bullet” even though he lacks his co-star’s easygoing finesse. There’s strong support, too, from Jonathan Pryce as a sly sports agent with his fingers in a few too many pies.

As drawn out as the story sometimes feels, the director also tosses in some genuinely funny sequences to ensure that Leatherheads keeps you smiling, and occasionally laughing, at the pratfalls of his protagonists (especially on the football field). While a nicely played final act means that it touches down in some style to leave audiences with the right kind of feel-good glow. It’s well worth giving it a chance.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 114mins
UK DVD Release: August 18, 2008