As both actor and director, George Clooney clearly has a soft spot for the classics. Michael Clayton was made with '70s thriller-dramas in mind. Hipster comedies from the '60s inspired the Ocean's Eleven series. The Good German paid homage to Casablanca and The Third Man from the '40s. Behind the camera, Clooney captured the gaudiness of the '60s and '70s with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and offered a stylish tribute to Edward R. Murrow and '50s television journalism in Good Night, and Good Luck.
Leatherheads, in which Clooney stars and directs, goes back even further in time to the '20s, and is somewhat reminiscent of two other old-fashioned comedies he did with the Coen Brothers. It has some goofy, old-time slapstick reminiscent of O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and like Intolerable Cruelty, it's clearly derived from screwball comedies. But as a romantic comedy set during the early days of professional football, Leatherheads is also more conventional (i.e. less unusual) than either of those films.
With a script by Sports Illustrated writers Duncan Brantley and Rick Reilly, Leatherheads is completely fictional but nevertheless inspired by historical fact. In the early 1920s, college football was as big as pro baseball, but professional football was considered a joke—sparsely attended free-for-alls with no established rules, running plays that relied as much on trickery as athletic ability. Teams recruited all sorts: farmers, miners, high school students, town drunks. The league itself was established as little more than an agreement for these little teams to play each other—an agreement that couldn't hold up over time, as teams succumbed to bankruptcy one by one. It wasn't until professional teams started hiring ...1
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