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Movie Review: "Goon" Is A Raunchy Yet Candid Look At The Dark Side Of Hockey

At it's core, Goon is a movie with a good and sweet heart. A very raunchy and disgustingly bloody heart, but a good heart nonetheless. It's also a movie that explores the dark side of hockey and while there is some excitement in the violence that occurs on the ice, Goon does a great job of addressing the consequences of players that sacrifice their bodies for the good of their sport and their team.

Goon follows the story of Doug Glatt, who is "discovered" when he fights a minor-league hockey player in the stands and is hired to play for the local team. Glatt has never played hockey before, but finds a calling when his extraordinary fighting skills lead him all the way to this movie's version of the AHL. The movie is loosely based on the real-life events of Doug Smith, who first laced up the skates at the age of 19 and found a short but successful career as a fighter in the lower minor leagues in the late 1980's.

I want to get into the heart of the story and "spoilers" after the jump, so for those who haven't seen the movie here are my non-spoiler thoughts.

As a comedy, this movie works only if you're good with raunchy, sexist comedy that seems as if it was written in a men's locker room. Co-written by (and starring) Jay Baruchel, it seems as if they not only wanted to make a movie based on a particular fighter but also shed some light on what happens when the curtain is pulled back on the players and teams we all love and follow so closely.

Glatt is signed by an "AHL" team to not only bring some toughness to the team, but to also provide some protection and encouragement for Xavier Laflamme, a burnout former-top pick whose career has suffered after a devastating hit from Ross Rhea. Glatt is seen as the successor to Rhea, who is retiring after a long career as the sport's biggest and baddest goon. The film follows Glatt and Laflamme's joint road to success and redemption, with plenty of sex jokes and raunchy behavior thrown in.

The story is somewhat simple and I have a big issue with Glatt being portrayed as such a simpleton, almost at Forrest Gump levels in his naïveté. What really holds this film together, however, is the great performances by everyone involved. Liev Schrieber shines as Ross Rhea and Seann William Scott does his best with such a dull character, and the movie is filled with great character actors and moments for all.

What this film really does, however, is raise questions about the nature of fighting in hockey and it's place in the sport in this day and age. We'll discuss the finer points of Goon after the jump.

"You know they just want you to bleed, right?"
-- Ross Rhea
"Then I'll do whatever they need me to do. If they need me to bleed, then I'll bleed for my team."
-- Doug Glatt

***Spoilers Below!!***

Goon is a move that makes me think of gladiators back in the days of the Roman Empire, men who willingly thrust themselves into battle for the sake of entertainment and glory. Thousands of years ago, arenas would fill with people there to see two men (or more) fight to a bloody death and there were times when the crowd would be used to decide the fate of the fallen.

Fast forward to modern times, and this scenario is played out nearly every night on the ice around the world. Teams face off against one another and those big and bad enough to do so, square off on the ice in a one-on-one fist fight. In no other sport is this sort of behavior tolerated and while there is a penalty for fighting, not only is the action allowed, the game is in fact stopped so everyone can pay attention to the two men beating the fire out of each others' faces.

Why do these men do this? Is it simple because they love to fight or because they are good at it? In Goon, we focus on two men who fit this description, yet while one has accepted that he is nothing more than a mercenary for hire the other is steadfast in his belief that it is his job to do whatever it takes to protect and serve his team. In hockey, this is something that is very prevalent in players that are looking for any way possible to find their place in the sport -- players without as much skill as others take up the mantle of those willing to fight, seeing it as their duty to do what others on the team aren't as willing to follow through with.

In Goon, the earnestness of Glatt to take the ice and fight is partially explained by his lowered intelligence and simple approach to life. At one point in the movie Glatt gets into an argument with his parents, imploring them accept the fact that he's "stupid" and that fighting in hockey is the only way he'll ever be a part of something bigger than himself. This is perhaps the film's biggest flaw, when his willingness to take the ice and sacrifice himself should be more about the human spirit and not about how his intelligence doesn't allow him to see the danger of what he's doing.

When Rhea and Glatt meet in a diner in the middle of the night before a big game, they have what is most certainly the most important conversation in the film that bares the true soul of these characters. Rhea has always accepted the fact that he's a goon and nothing more, not a hockey player, and that as soon as he stops fighting then he will no longer be loved. Rhea is the "bad guy" of the NHL, who has been exiled to the minors to end his career -- yet he is at peace with the path his career has taken. It's clear that his persona on ice is something he sees as necessary for him to be successful.

Glatt refuses to accept this reality and steadfastly holds onto the belief that his role in hockey is to sacrifice for his team and protect those in the locker room that are more capable than he is at actually playing the sport. There is a sequence that shows Glatt becoming more intelligent in the actual game as the season progresses, becoming more trusted by his coach to do something more than fight. Therefore, his refusal to accept a particular role has led him to actually becoming a true "hockey player" -- something that Rhea never believe he was -- and a player used on the power play and on defense in the final seconds of the most important game of the season.

Those final seconds are also the film's most divisive, when Glatt decides to block a shot with his face -- winning the game for his team. While you accept Glatt's sacrificial nature, it's also the part of the movie that bends reality just a bit too much.

And that is why watching this film is hard at times.

Goon doesn't necessarily glorify the fighting in the sport, but it certainly shows in gruesome detail the abject brutality of what it means for two mean to punch each other in the face time and time again with bare fists. This isn't boxing, this is nothing but pure blood-sport -- and people love it. The fans in the movie make Glatt a rock star, in the same way that players like Shane Churla were beloved because of their ability to turn the tide of a game with a well-placed punch.

But watching these scenes is also a reminder of the real-life price players like this pay and perhaps show why "goons" are being phased out of the NHL. Fans will always love to see fighting in this sport but the price to be paid is so high, and the skills of such players at a premium, that a top-level league like the NHL just doesn't have a place for players like that any longer.

It's a shame, in a way, because it makes you appreciate what players like this are willing to do for their team and this sport. Brent Severyn always said he hated having to fight, but he knew that was his job and his role on the team. It also makes you appreciate players like Mark Fistric more, or even Krys Barch, who are the targets of stat-heads the world over yet obviously still have some sort of place in this sport -- and who have done all they can to carve out a place for themselves at the NHL level.

Before watching this movie I was afraid I was going to see a film that glorifies the violence and fighting in the sport and while it does show the fighting in a hyper-real setting -- the film also does a great job of showing what it means to be such a player and how even the best fighters the sport has ever seen -- as Doug Glatt is portrayed -- aspire to be true hockey players and more than just a "goon."

There is also some really great, realistic insight into how fights are started during games. Glatt understands his job is to fight and approaches this as a job, not from a place of anger (although that happens as well) and the movie even features a cameo from one of the most renowned "nice guy" fighters -- George Laraque. Through the movie Glatt is showing respect for those he fights and there's even a recreation of the infamous Laraque fight with Raitis Ivanans.

On its surface Goon is a simple, raunchy comedy about the "Bobby Boucher" of hockey. He even has his very own Manic Pixie Dream Girl (played by the drummer girl from Scott Pilgrim, Alison Pill) that is so in love with him, this exchange actually happens.

"You make me want to stop sleeping with a bunch of guys."
"That's the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me."

Under that surface, however, is an exploration of the nature of personal sacrifice for a sport that chews these players up and spits them out with little remorse. It helps that this theme is wrapped in a tight comedy with some great comedic moments and generally great acting, as well.

I highly recommend Goon for any hockey fan, as long as you don't mind some really bad language.


"Goon" is rated R for brutal violence, non-stop language, some strong sexual content and drug use