MAGNET RELEASING (2012)
Director: Michael Dowse
Starring: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Marc-André Grondin, Kim Coates, Eugene Levy, Liev Schreiber
“This isn’t baseball…!” - Too right it’s not.
Man, I love hockey. First game was October 5th 1996 at the Mellon Arena (the booby), Pittsburgh, watching the Pens go down 4-3 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Witnessing the sight of (baby faced) Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis and Le Magnifique, Mario Lemieux, in full flight was something else. Been a fan ever since.
Great hockey movies are few and far between. For every Slap Shot, Miracle and The Mighty Ducks there’s a Breakaway, MVP: Most Valuable Primate, Youngblood, Slap Shot 2: Breaking the Ice and Tooth Fairy.
Thankfully, Goon falls in the former category. It’s pretty darn good.
Doug Glatt (Scott) is a bouncer at a Massachusetts bar, imposing yet infallibly nice. He gets through the nights by administering beatings when his bosses instruct him too but always apologizes for the pain dished out. His middle-class Jewish family tends to keep him to one side, so as not to taint their doctorates and his only outlet is his foul-mouthed best friend Pat (Baruchel). Pat runs his own ice hockey show to varying success and knows the one way to pep up his buddy – take him to an Orangetown Assassin’s game. Destiny was in the stars that night. After Pat taunts and is confronted by an opposing teams player, Doug steps in and KO’s him for using homophobic slurs (Doug’s brother is gay) and the crowd love it. Later that night, Doug is offered a role as an enforcer (an on-ice protector/fighter) with the Assassins.
As Doug learns to skate and lays waste to all opposing players who dare challenge him, he earns the nickname “The Thug”. With his star on the rise, he is sent to Hamilton, Ontario to attempt to resurrect the flailing Highlanders and the career of their star player, Xavier Laflamme (Grondin). Once a young star in the big league, a devastating hit and concussion by legendary enforcer (and Doug’s idol) Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Schreiber) nearly killed him and stripped him of his on-ice courage. Now, the near-retired Rhea has been demoted to the minors for a vicious slash on an opponent and turns out for the St. John’s Shamrocks – who will be competing with the Highlanders.
As Glatt helps the team march towards an unlikely playoff berth, he finds clumsy romance with Eva (Pill) and rivalry with Laflamme. With the playoffs looming, all paths lead to the main event – Glatt vs. Rhea in a goon battle for the ages.
Goon is based on the book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith - Smith being the ‘real’ Doug Glatt and the inspiration for the character. Written by legitimate funny guy Evan Goldberg (Knocked Up, This Is the End, Sausage Party, The Disaster Artist) and Baruchel, the movie was always going to have a certain churlishness to it, but thankfully there’s more to it than just f-bombs and gutter-japes. It’s obviously hockey-centric, but there are themes of loyalty, affection and ‘doing the right thing’ all throughout. Plus lots of fighting. Lots of fighting.
There are shades of Slap Shot, and allusions to a very angry Mighty Ducks movie but thankfully no monkeys.
Seann William Scott delivers an affable performance as the enforcer who, whilst lacking in intelligence somewhat, is touched by the “fist of God”. His dichotomy between politeness and face-pounding is good to watch and his geniality is touching at times. Pitt hits the right notes as Eva, warm yet subtly eccentric in her own way, she has some good laughs and is afforded the movie’s emotional scenes. It’s a strangely loveable relationship. Grondin and Coates are solid, and Dave Wheeler as the commentator is just great (a wired Mike Emrick). Liev Schreiber is a beast. No way would I fight that dude. His physical presence and voice fit the character perfectly and he just looks menacing - Sabretooth on ice. Jay Baruchel’s character borders annoying at times when letting loose, in the movie’s chief character letdown.
There are some good comedy moments throughout, generally centered around the Highlanders players and staff, though Eva gets in on the act and Glatt’s conservative family provide some entertainment (Eugene Levy with a restrained performance as the father). Glatt’s earnestness also provides some soft, fun moments – his response to Eva’s emotional opening (“You make me wanna stop sleeping with a bunch of guys”…) and the final challenge from Rhea especially. There’s some schoolboy humour and the fights are laced with humour, in-between the brutality. The bouts are hard-hitting and bruising with every thwack of fist on chin reverberating loud.
Some of the editing was noticeably awry in the first third of the movie, interactions were cut together strangely and didn’t flow all that well, though, in the following acts, the problem seemed to be rectified. The fights were well edited and shot, and the hockey action itself was also captured nicely - fast and chaotic at times.
The story itself is nothing out-of-the-norm and is pretty much your classic rags-to-riches tale, however, what it does do perfectly is end at the right moment. It could have been so simple to add another twenty minutes of footage onto the end and continue the story, but the writers pulled back when they needed to (as they did during the movie) and deliver a satisfying, but not saccharine, ending. There’s a great scene where Glatt and Rhea first encounter each other at a coffee bar late at night, and the scene plays out like a mini Heat, it’s very well done. Having the two enforcers respect each other was another solid decision, stripping Schreiber’s character of any cliché villainy. The rivalry and desire to KO the other are alive and tough, but it’s respectfully tough.
Goon falls squarely into the category of good hockey movies, and also good sports movies in general. There are no great narrative surprises to be found, but it’s entertaining, humorous and a blast to watch. Get your skates on.
Oh, and Let’s Go Pens!
October 11th 2017