What makes a hero? Are heroic deeds more than actions? Can heroism be seen in a commitment to truth?
"Leatherheads," which sets a love triangle against the emerging pro football league of the 1920s, is a story about how much Americans long for heroes. Sometimes these heroes are heroic only in folklore and myth, not reality.
Dodge Connelly (George Clooney) is an aging pro football player, and his league is folding from no interest and no money. Carter Rutherford (John Krasinski) is a college football star and a decorated war hero. Carter's face is everywhere, with some product in hand. Dodge concludes that Carter is just what his team needs to survive.
Dodge pitches Carter's manager, C.C. Frazier (Jonathan Pryce), the idea of Carter jumping to the pros. Frazier, concerned about his pocketbook, bites.
Enter Lexie Littleton (Renee Zellweger), a woman reporter trying to make it in a man's world. She's interested in Carter, but only to get his real story, which may not be all the public thinks it is.
Tack on to all this Dodge's interest in Lexie, and you have an attempt at a screwball comedy like "His Girl Friday." Unfortunately, the jokes and chemistry don't work that well. And though the movie has great actors, it also offers some underdeveloped characters. In the end, "Leatherheads" is neither a good nor bad movie, though it does offer a commentary on heroism.
As the story develops, we see that Carter isn't a bad person. He's affable and a team player. But the interest in him comes mostly from his wartime image. His heroism, or alleged heroism, makes Carter marketable. Football is merely a stage for that marketability, and Frazier is there to exploit that.
Stories are told through symbol and metaphor, and football is this story's metaphor. Dodge doesn't care if Carter's wartime image is legit; he just wants to keep playing. Lexie cares about the story, but not really the truth. Frazier just wants to get paid. The love of money roots this story.
"Leatherheads" asks us to consider our heroes. What makes one a hero? Is it bravery or something more? Carter is a terrific football player, but his war story is what makes him a hero. Football will one day fade, but his wartime image holds potential for long-lasting marketability.
Sam Keen, in his book Hymns to an Unknown God, tells readers to be careful about those we idolize. Though he is writing about spiritual leaders, in this age where many follow heroes of sports and entertainment, his words are valid. Keen tells us to spy on those we follow and see if their lives hold water, if their stories are true.
In a media-driven culture, we need to be more enlightened about the ways of hyperbole and how those ways can attract us to buy and have. Carter Rutherford becomes a poster boy for a culture that longs for the "next big thing."
Andy Warhol famously said that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes. Many want to stand in the spotlight as long as they can; others want to line their own pockets from it.
The writer of Hebrews declares: "Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, 'I will never leave you or forsake you.'"
Such is the wisdom we need in this age.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language.
Director: George Clooney
Writers: Duncan Brantley & Rick Reilly
Cast: Dodge Connelly: George Clooney; Lexie Littleton: Renee Zellweger; Carter Rutherford: John Krasinski; C.C. Frazier: Jonathan Pryce; Suds: Stephen Root; Coach Ferguson: Wayne Duvall.
The movie's official Web site is here.