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Leatherheads is a 2008 Americanmarker sports comedy film from Universal Pictures directed by and starring George Clooney. The film also stars Renée Zellweger, Jonathan Pryce and John Krasinski and focuses on the early years of professional American Football.


Clooney plays Jimmy "Dodge" Connelly, captain of a struggling professional American football team in the 1920s (circa 1925), the Duluthmarker Bulldogs. Dodge is determined to save both his team and pro football in general when the players lose their sponsor and the league is on the brink of collapse. He convinces Princeton Universitymarker's college football star, Carter "the Bullet" Rutherford, to join the Bulldogs, hoping to capitalize on Carter's fame as a decorated hero of the First World War (like Alvin York, he single-handedly captured a large group of German soldiers).

In addition to his legendary tales of combat heroism, Carter has dashing good looks and unparalleled speed and skill on the field. As a result of his presence, both the Bulldogs and pro football in general begin to prosper.

Zellweger provides a romantic interest as Chicago Tribune newspaper reporter Lexie Littleton, who becomes the object of the affections of both Dodge and Carter. Dodge knows that Lexie has been assigned to find proof that Carter's war heroics are bogus. Indeed, Carter confesses that the surrender of the Germans was a lucky accident and that his role in it was more foolish than heroic. Carter soon discovers Lexie's agenda and is doubly hurt when he learns that Dodge and Lexie kissed (twice, according to Dodge). The ensuing fight between Dodge and Carter over Lexie's affections puts her off, and spurred on by the threats of Carter's manager, she decides to publish the story.

The story sparks a firestorm of accusations and reprimands between the Tribune and Carter's camp. Carter's manager resorts to shady dealing to cover up the story, even bribing the original witness to change his story. Lexie's and Carter's careers hang on opposite sides of the balance.

Meanwhile, Dodge's attempts to legitimize pro football take a life of its own. The new football commissioner formalizes the game's rules taking away much of the improvisational antics that teams, like the Bulldogs, were famous for. In addition to the change in the game rules, the commissioner takes the responsibility of clearing up the Carter controversy to set an example for the new, cleaner, direction of professional football.

With the whole world against Lexie (even the Tribune is pushing her to retract her story), Dodge concocts a clever ruse to resolve the issue. Interrupting a private hearing in the Commissioner's office, Dodge threatens Carter with a confrontation by his old army mates. Dodge claims that they are just outside the door of the Commissioner's office, ready to congratulate him for his heroic actions. In truth, the men outside the window are the Bulldogs in borrowed Army uniforms. Carter succumbs under the pressure and confesses the truth to the Commissioner. The Commissioner frees Lexie from printing a retraction, has Carter maintain the ruse (but makes him give a hefty part of his paycheck to a charitable Army cause), and fires Carter's conniving manager. Also, he warns Dodge that football has changed. And, if Dodge pulls any old tricks to win the next game, he'll lose his place in the league.

With his own playing style at an end, Dodge plays in one last big game. This time it will be against Carter, who has changed sides to the Chicago team. The rivalry for Lexie's affection spills over onto the football field for one last day.

Real-life basis

In an interview on The Late Show with David Letterman, Clooney mentioned the plot is loosely based on George Halas's signing of University of Illinois football star Harold "Red" Grange. Grange was signed to a contract with the Chicago Bears in 1925, the day after his final game at Illinois.

The team itself is loosely based on the Duluth Eskimos. Clooney later explained that "We wanted to call them the Eskimos, but because we were drinking in the movie, the NFL said we couldn't use the actual names."



Leatherheads began filming on February 12, 2007. Filming locations mainly included locations in upstate South Carolinamarker around Greenville, Greer and Travelers Rest, and western North Carolinamarker around Statesville, Greensboro and Winston-Salem, specifically at Hanes Middle School and the Winston-Salem Millenium Center. Train scenes were filmed at the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, North Carolina. Filming wrapped in mid-May 2007. After initially being set for release in December 2007, the studio moved the release date to April 4, 2008.On March 24, George Clooney and Renée Zellweger premiered the movie in Maysville, Kentuckymarker, birthplace of Clooney's father and aunt, Nick Clooney and Rosemary Clooney. Clooney and Zellweger visited Duluth to promote the film.

The piano player bent over the tack piano with eyes glued to music is the composer of the original music in this movie, Oscar-winning songwriter Randy Newman.

Critical reception

The film received mixed reviews from critics. As of April 5, 2008, the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 54% of critics gave the film positive reviews, based on 108 reviews. Metacritic reported the film had an average score of 57 out of 100, based on 32 reviews.

Box office performance

In its opening weekend, the film grossed $12.6 million in 2,769 theaters in the United Statesmarker and Canadamarker, ranking #3 at the box office behind Nim's Island, below the expectations of Universal Studios. Viewers in their 50s to 80s were the main audience for the film. As of May 1 2008, the movie had made about $29.7 million from the United States and Canada and $6 million from other markets making a global total of$35.8 million. The budget for the movie was $58 million.

Writing credits

In 2007, a Writers Guild of America arbitration vote decided not to award Clooney a screen credit for the film, preferring to credit only the original writers, longtime Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly and his former magazine colleague, Duncan Brantley. In response to the WGA's ruling, Clooney resigned his full WGA status to go "financial core" within the guild, meaning that while still technically a member, he only has limited rights. While he did not contest the ruling of the WGA, Clooney said that he did not want to exclude Brantley and Reilly, agreeing that they deserved the first position credit for their work, but felt that his "major overhaul" of the 17-year-old script to turn it into a screwball comedy left only two of the original scenes intact.

Co-producer Grant Heslov stated that he thought the guild "made the wrong decision," saying, "This script that Duncan and Rick wrote sat languid until after we finished Good Night, and Good Luck. [...] George liked Leatherheads but said it never felt quite right. He took it to Italy with him, and I remember when he called to say he thought he'd solved it. One thing that you clearly see, if you read the original, the subsequent drafts and then his draft, is that he wrote the majority of the film [...] We both thought Duncan and Rick would get first position credit, which they deserved. But this wasn't right."

Special Effects

  • The motorcycle that Clooney and Zellweger rode in Leatherheads is not a vintage V-twin motorcycle. It is one of three custom-built 36-volt electric-powered Indian replicas. The movie motorcycles were designed after a vintage 1918 Indian and fabricated in El Segundo, CA at Customs By Eddie Paul. Leatherheads script required a functional vintage motorcycle that could be ridden and operated by the actors during recording of dialogue. Eddie Paul and shop manager Brian Hatano engineered an electric powertrain, fabricated the special frame, sidecar, mock engine (that conceals a high-tech DC motor inside) and then "age painted" everything to create the authentic look.



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