With live sports on pause and most people stuck at home due to the coronavirus, hockey fans have to find other ways to pass the time. Watching a good hockey movie can certainly help, but the fact is some of us haven't seen the "classic" hockey movies since we were kids.
So how good are they really? Do they actually hold up? With nothing but time on our hands, let's find out.
Every Friday during the pause, I'll have a hockey movie review in which I will watch a movie the night before, take notes and provide those notes and a grade for each movie just to see how good they really are.
You can check out the past reviews here:
This week's movie: "Goon"
"Goon" is the story of Doug Glatt, played by Seann William Scott, who is a bouncer at a bar and the black sheep of his intellectual family. After beating up a minor league player in the stands at a local hockey game, Glatt catches the eye of the coach. He is brought on as an enforcer and does well enough to work his way up to a higher league. He is eventually signed to the Halifax Highlanders primarily to protect star prospect Xavier Laflamme who suffered a concussion early in his career and has struggled to get back to the NHL for fear of getting hit.
The movie is loosely based on the book "Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey" which is the true story of Doug "The Hammer" Smith. Not surprisingly, Smith was an amateur boxer before he got into hockey which is partly why he was so adept at fighting.
One thing to note, if you're easily offended or don't care for bad language or inappropriate humor, this movie is not for you. This isn't an R because they say the F-word twice, it's a hard R. Personally, I love the humor, but it is certainly not for everyone.
Hockey fans who watch this movie can absolutely appreciate that this movie was put into the hand of people who know the game. There are plenty of sports movies out there that are laughably unrealistic, but this movie has a lot of subtle references that die-hard hockey fans can pick up and appreciate. It certainly depicts a different era of hockey than we have today, but for those who watched in the 90s and before, there is a lot of this movie that rings true. There are also a lot of big-time actors for what was a low-budget movie. In addition to Scott, Liev Schreiber, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill and Eugene Levy are all part of the cast.
It is a hockey movie definitely aimed at a hardcore hockey audience and great care was taken to make sure they got it right.
Here are my notes from watching:
- Ross Rhea hitting a player in the head with his stick is a clear reference to Marty McSorely's hit on Donald Brashear. After doing some research, the tearful press conference Rhea has afterward was a reference to Todd Bertuzzi's press conference that he gave after punching Steve Moore in the back of the neck.
- You'll know within the first 10 minutes if this movie is for you. The point of demarkation is probably when Glatt appears on his friend's local TV show on hockey. The producer quits mid-show because of all the swearing. If you agree with that guy, you should probably just turn the movie off at that point because that's the kind of humor that runs through the entire movie.
- When Glatt first gets on the ice, he doesn't know how to skate and his ankles keep turning in. This is a real thing and probably the biggest issue people have when first learning to skate. You have to have tight skates and lace them up so tightly that your ankles can stay straight. Otherwise, they will bend in exactly like they do for Glatt.
- I love the video work Glatt puts into being a better fighter. It's not just about going out there and taking punches. It's hard to fight with a pair of skates on.
- Halifax is meant to be an AHL team as they are just one step below the NHL. In reality, Smith played the majority of his hockey career in the ECHL. He only played three games in the AHL. The movie makes it look like he's an everyday player, but Smith played in only 60 games across all levels in his six-year hockey career.
- The mix of players they have in Halifax is hilarious. There's Glatt from Massachusetts, Laflamme is French Canadian, there are the western Canadians and there are the two Russian who always hang out together. The only one that seemed a bit out of place was Park Kim who was there to pay for medical school. Not sure you can just half-ass your way to the AHL as a means of paying for school. That character probably would have been a better fit for Glatt's first team in a lower minor league.
- If you think the idea of bringing in a goon to the AHL who really isn't good enough to play just to protect the star player is far-fetched, then you're probably relatively new to watching the game. This was definitely a thing in the AHL for a long time and it was brutal. The AHL is still a more physical league than the NHL to this day.
- Let's talk about the Halifax logo on the floor of the locker room. Laflamme spits on it when Glatt first gets there and Glatt gets down and wipes it off. On the way to the ice, every player walks over it except Glatt who walks around. As the movie continues, everyone walks around it except Laflamme and then by the end even he won't walk on it. This is absolutely a thing in hockey. The Caps have the Eagle logo on the floor of their locker room at Capital One Arena and no one is allowed to walk on it. The PR and the players used to ask the press not to walk on it if they ever saw anyone and eventually, it was roped off to make sure no one could. Now, it is actually covered when the media goes in so you can walk over it, but not on it.
- My biggest issue with this movie has to be how dumb they make Glatt. It's over the top. I haven't read the book so I don't know if Smith is self-deprecating and believes himself to be stupid, but the movie really takes it to another level. Even Glatt's love interest, Eva, makes fun of him for how dumb he is when she says, "Eva likes Doug. Eva likes you." He can barely string a coherent sentence together and I don't know why the movie made this choice. It seems to imply the reason he's a good fighter and willing to be a good enforcer is because he's so dumb. For a movie that really seems to understand hockey and especially minor league hockey as well as this does, it is totally off base to imply that it takes an idiot to be the type of player Glatt is. What's really frustrating is that this is a choice the movie didn't have to make. His brother is a doctor, his parents are successful and Glatt works security at a bar. That's not to say that anyone who works security at a bar is dumb, it's just that the audience would have gotten the message that Glatt is not like the rest of his family. It didn't need to make him a neanderthal.
- This movie does not shy away from blood, does it?
- As the movie goes along, Glatt's earns more trust and more roles on the team. He ends up playing on the power play because he's not afraid to screen the goalie. He plays on the penalty kill because he can clear the front of the net. It was a good illustration of the value of these types of players.
- Glatt scores a goal with his butt. In his career, Smith recorded four assists but never a goal.
- Georges Laraque is in this movie and it references a famous fight he had in which he was mic'd up and was very polite before and after the fight. In the movie he and Glatt await the faceoff and Laraque asks, "Hey, you want to go?" "Yeah, OK." "Good luck, buddy." After the fight, they each say "good fight" to each other and head to the box. First off, this actually happened. Second, it is important to put that in there because, as the movie goes along, you see more and more that these fights are about respect more so than just trying to rearrange the face of an opponent. Sure, emotions can get involved, but enforcers know they have a job to do and most of them respect each other for it. This was a good reminder of that and important to put into the movie before Glatt meets Rhea because it sheds more light on why they would have had such respect for one another.
- Seeing Glatt's parents' reaction to watching him play was interesting and brought up something that never had occurred to me. How do parents feel when their kids are enforcers? It has to be gut-wrenching to watch. In the movie, Glatt's parents disapprove entirely, but it's more because they are disappointed in him. What do actual hockey parents think when they have to watch their kid trade blows in a game and do it multiple times in a season?
- Laflamme is upset that Glatt played 11 minutes in a game. That's about what a fourth-line player would get. In fact, this is after he was on the power play so it's really not that much playing time at all. If Glatt is getting 11 minutes, not enough to take away from Laflamme's playing time.
- Taking the bus on the road is just a way of life in the AHL. I'm glad the movie showed it at least a little.
- The movie's depiction of Quebec is simultaneously over the top and spot on. I laugh every time they show the flags in the arena with a tiny American and Canadian flag on either side of a humongous Quebec flag. That's just perfect.
- "I'm here to do whatever they need me to do. If they need me to bleed, then I'll bleed for my team." I couldn't help but think of Quintin Laing when Glatt says this. He was not as much of a fighter as Glatt, but if you could sum up how he approached the game, this is it.
- Let's talk about Glatt and Rhea's relationship. Glatt sees Rhea in a diner and the two talk. I love this scene because it really illustrates what it means to these players to be enforcers. Enforcers are not just angry dudes looking to pick fights or dirty players. This is what they're good at and they know it's how they can help the team. Rhea even tells Glatt he respects him. This scene provides more context for the two games Halifax plays against Rhea. Rhea pulls out all the tricks to antagonize the Highlanders, but it's not because he's a dirty player. Laying out the opponents, fighting them, drawing penalties, agitating, that's how he helps his team win. Now granted, yes, he was suspended for hitting a guy in the head with his stick and yes, he enjoys the big hits that leave his opponents concussed, but I think it would be incorrect to label him as the "villain" of this movie. He's not and you really learn that in the diner. I think it also makes the fight between Glatt and Rhea at the end that much better. Rhea won't let the refs break up the fight the first time Glatt goes down and to me, it's because he respects Glatt and wants to give him the chance to get back up. He's even smiling at the end after Glatt knocks him out.
- If there is a villain in this movie, I would argue that it's Laflamme. Yes, he has a character arc in that he hates Glatt at first and doesn't care about the team or anyone but himself at the start and gradually learns the importance of the team. By the end, he and Glatt are friends and he doesn't walk on the team logo anymore. Still, this guy who supposedly learned what it's like to become a team player still never passes the puck. Ever. He declares he is going to score a hat trick for Glatt and he does it by stickhandling through the entire team and ignoring the rest of his teammates. The movie sort of glosses over this, but in the final minute of a must-win game, Halifax is on the penalty kill because Laflamme was given a major for high-sticking. What the heck did he do to get a major and how stupid can you be with the team up by one goal in a must-win game?
Final Grade: B
In terms of hockey, this movie knows what it's talking about. There is realistic play, realistic relationships and, for the most part, a realistic depiction of minor league hockey on and off the ice. Yes, there are some over the top moments and characters added for humor, but boil it down to the actual hockey and this movie really gets it right. That's impressive considering the main subject matter is fighting and it can be tough to grasp that there is a lot of respect involved in hockey fights. The major flaw of this movie, however, is the fact that it makes Glatt so darn dim-witted. It's over the top and clouds the overall point. Are hockey fights about respect or are the enforcers just dumb? It's a poor choice that drags the movie down a bit, but still this is a really solid hockey movie that hardcore hockey fans can enjoy.
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