If you’ve been reading FilmThreat.com for a while, or even follow us on Twitter, chances are that you know what a huge fan of hockey I am. I’ve been a Philadelphia Flyers fan my entire life, and even currently reside less than 10 miles from the City of Brotherly Love. Considering the Flyers most lasting contribution to the sport of hockey, to date, is the legacy of the Broad Street Bullies, the sheer mention of a hockey film called Goon was going to pique my interest. Add to that the inclusion of Liev Schreiber (the voice of 24/7, the NHL’s Winter Classic build-up series on HBO) and the direction of Michael Dowse (the filmmaker behind the FUBAR films), and you’ve got me beyond interested.
And while I wasn’t entirely sure what I was in for (sometimes you get Miracle; sometimes you get The Love Guru (a film that I’m convinced was built from the idea that Mike Myers wanted to see the Maple Leafs win the Cup, so he half-assed backwards-engineered a plot from there)), I knew I was at least going to enjoy something hockey-related. I didn’t expect to be as over-the-moon impressed with Goon as I was.
The tale is simple enough: Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is a strong, not-so-intelligent man with a big heart. When his ability to finish a fight with violent flourish impresses a local minor league hockey team, Glatt finds himself on the ice in an enforcer role; whether he can skate or pass is irrelevant as long as he can go out on the ice when needed to kick the a*s of the other team’s tough guy. As Glatt’s legend grows, he is brought up through the ranks to join the Halifax Highlanders as a protector for now gun-shy potential superstar Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin).
LaFlamme is playing beneath his ability, still shaken from a violent hit he sustained, and the Highlanders are a bunch of broken losers. But where anyone else would see a team of cast-offs, Glatt sees his teammates, and he dives into his protector role with overwhelming heart and enthusiasm. Finally with a place to call his own, Glatt’s respect for the crest he wears on his chest, and his willingness to mix it up with anybody, begins to inspire the rest of the team.
But as much as this is beginning to sound like a typical “misfit team comes together and makes a Cinderella run at some championship,” the story is even more simple than that. As Glatt’s goon star rises, veteran enforcer Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber) is on his way out. From the start of the film, we know that these two heavyweights will face each other at some point, and in many ways the film is just one powerful build to that match-up. It’s the passing of the baton, and a face-off of passion and optimism with aged cynicism. It’s epic all the way.
What stands out about Goon is that those involved obviously not only know hockey, they love it. Little touches throughout the film scream authentic, even when the violence elevates into the realm of caricature. Seriously, while blood has been known to flow in hockey, the amount that sprays in this film is almost Tarantino-absurd.
And while I didn’t know what to expect from Seann William Scott (he seems capable of consistently surprising me with each film I see him in), his lumbering imbecile just trying to find his place in the world gives the film a strong core. All of a sudden it’s not just violence and humor, it’s heart and soul and teamwork. I thought I might be entertained, but inspired? Where the Hell did that come from?
On the other end is Liev Schreiber’s Ross Rhea, and his performance is incredible as the weathered enforcer who knows that is time is running out. Long since adopted a cynical acceptance of his own abilities and where that places him in the world of hockey, you get the feeling that Rhea once held similar hopes and feelings that Glatt did, but a long career beat it out of him. A scene near the end of the film where Glatt and Rhea meet in a diner feels lifted right out of Heat, and holds all the power of that Pacino-DeNiro face-to-face.
Now, Goon isn’t always on point for me. Xavier LaFlamme, for instance, is an insufferable douchebag throughout almost the entire film, and I don’t know if his character ever finally got the growth or arc I was hoping for (though when he does turn for the heroic, it adds to that epic feel). Additionally, Glatt’s hockey-mad friend Pat (Jay Baruchel) can be as over-the-top in obnoxious demeanor as the violence is on the ice (though I do know people just like him). I definitely found myself more annoyed with him than laughing at, or with, him (much like those I know with similar personalities, so maybe it’s not the film’s character I’ve really annoyed with here).
Still, what am I bitching about? Even the things I didn’t dig pale in comparison to all the things I did enjoy, and I didn’t even mention Alison Pill’s wonderful performance as Glatt’s love interest (she’s been around the block a few times while he’s stuck in some puppy love wonderland, but by God does it work between them).
Listen, Goon isn’t Slap Shot, but Happy Gilmore wasn’t Caddyshack; the classics remain at the top of the pile, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have something fun and entertaining in the meantime, or something that’s awesome in its own goofy way. Goon is like a hockey enforcer cartoon with heart, over-the-top and brilliant. Hockey purists will find more than enough to enjoy and embrace, and those less hockey inclined will also be entertained. I’m in the former group, and as a man who loves his hockey, and hockey films when done right, I loved Goon.