If you were to ask a Canadian to name the best hockey film, they’d have a fairly short list to work with.  Where baseball has generated a fairly long list of films, some sentimental, some colourful, portraying various aspects of that sport, hockey hasn’t been fully captured on film.

The best hockey films?

  • Slap Shot, possibly Paul Newman’s best film, even if the way hockey gets represented isn’t terribly accurate.  Yes I love the Hanson brothers, yes I delight in the profanity that’s woven throughout, but that’s not really what hockey looks like, fun as the film is.
  • The Mighty Ducks franchise made lots of money for Disney.  And if you believe that’s what hockey is, perhaps I should introduce you to their talking animals, Mickey & Goofy, who can teach you a great deal about zoology.
  • Face-Off uses hockey as a backdrop, a romance rather than a hockey movie.
  • Miracle On Ice is a TV movie telling the story of the American victory in the 1960 Olympics.  I had to look it up (wikipedia), which tells you how memorable it was.

But now there’s a new champ in town.  Move over Slap Shot.  I saw Goon today, never doubting for a moment I’d love this movie.  Like Slap Shot there’s so much profanity in this film that it almost needs a special category all its own.  When I said there’s a new champ in town I meant to allude to its subject because Goon is really a movie about one aspect of hockey, namely the fighter: the goon.

Written by Jay Baruchel & Evan Goldberg (adapted from the book Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey by Adam Frattasio & Doug Smith), directed by Michael Dowse (who also directed Fubar II) it’s a film as blunt as its title, yet full of surprises.

Goon uses music of surprising sophistication.  While most of the score is rock music, at times we’re treated to different passages from Puccini’s opera Turandot, and not just the famous tune that ends with a hero defiantly shouting “vincero” (or “I shall win”).  

The title character is one of the sweetest characters you’ll ever meet, even though he has the ability to knock you silly: when he isn’t doing the honourable thing.

Goon tells a series of interconnected stories against a backdrop of a very cynical industry, namely hockey.  Our goon is Doug Glatt, portrayed by Seann William Scott, a man with no illusions about his abilities (he can barely skate), particularly in comparison to his brother (a doctor).   Doug, who is an up and coming young fighter at the beginning of his career, is juxtaposed against a veteran at the end of his career, namely Ross Rhea, in a wonderful portrayal from Liev Schreiber, including something like a Newfoundland accent.

This is not a film for children, unless you’re okay with exposing them to sex, drugs and more blood than a butcher shop on a busy day.  It’s grotesque, which is precisely why it’s so gloriously good.

All hail the new champ!

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