Fighting has become something of a stain on hockey in recent years, polarizing fans and experts alike about its necessity and practicality. Players grab each other’s sweaters and usually fall to the ground before a real punch is even thrown. It’s more a jest than serious machismo.
Goon, however, attempts to punch its way past this currently trivial act and re-establish its fraternity of brutality. The almost forgotten role of a hockey “enforcer,” a player whose main purpose is to be a physical menace on the ice, is brought back to life. But, with a skill fallen out of cultural context, this movie is more of an ode to an era long ago than it is a revival of forgotten folklore.
From its opening credits, droplets of blood sputtering over the ice, followed by the necessary token of victory, an ivory incisor, Goon never comes close to glossing over its subject matter. Directed by Michael Dowse and co-written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, the film was inspired primarily by the protagonist of the book “Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey,” by Doug Smith and Adam Fratassio.
Playing the goon is Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott), a small-town bar bouncer in Massachusetts turned semi-pro hockey player. He gets recruited one night by a local team after a scuffle in the stands in which Doug wallops some mammoth shots to a player raging into the bleachers. This is a dream come true for his friend Ryan (Baruchel), who hosts a vulgar hockey show in his basement, and it quickly becomes a calling for Doug. He’s weak on his skates, but comically bashes half of his hazing team before they respect his fist.
After bludgeoning his way through the league with intensely authentic, sometimes sensationalistic shots of bodily fluid, bursting like geysers from the hot springs of player’s mouths, Glatt gets recruited by the Halifax Highlanders, a minor league team in Nova Scotia. There he enters into a hockey Major League, from his diverse group of seasoned, cynical teammates, to the team’s outrageously comedic radio announcer. Glatt gets a vague picture of the team from his locker mate Marco, who immediately barks, “Two rules, man: Stay away from my [expletive] percocets and do you have any [expletive] percocets, man?
Doug off the ice is a completely different man. Reserved, kind, he finds his polar opposite in his roommate Xavier LaFlamme, the
hotshot startup Glatt was recruited to protect for games. LaFlamme was taken out early in his career by infamous enforcer Ross Rhea (a cathartic release for HBO 24/7 Hockey narrator Liev Schreiber), another goon that sets up a destined final battle; newcomer versus veteran, budding versus fading star. Now with Glatt’s protection, the drug-snorting LaFlamme regains some confidence.
It’s a simple story-line that is enhanced by foul-mouthed hockey-loving characters like Baruchel’s (a real-life Montreal Canadiens fan). He and Goldberg, along with director Dowse present the harsher side of the sport rarely seen. The hostile and often juvenile male camaraderie, the verbal on-ice guarantees to fight after the puck drop. All visually stylized with some distinct in-game perspectives.
Its link to Slap Shot is noticeable too, from bad haircuts to comedic lockerroom dysfunction. Schreiber takes on Paul Newman’s sage self with his deep, rich voice. He knows the end of his career is nigh, and imparts some disheartening wisdom to Glatt. “Like me, you’re no good to anyone doing anything else,” he confesses.
This resonates with Glatt in part because of his ashamed father (Eugene Levy), an esteemed doctor who scorns his son’s new profession. His only moral support comes from a small love interest in a girl named Eva (Allison Pill), a promiscuous mainstay at hockey bars. There is innocence in their relationship mostly because of Doug’s inability to pick up on subtle social cues, which ends up working in his favor. It would appear he has some form of mental condition, unable to see her sluttish tendencies. Pill pulls some unusual weight in her role that ultimately gives her character a stronger self-awakening. Doug finds himself too.
From its “R” rating, which comes primarily from Baruchel’s mouth, to its unusually tender side, if Goon tells us anything, it’s that fighting for real can still be achieved in a rink. Hockey fans, rejoice!