One of Canada’s most anticipated hockey films is half American. It’s an entertaining, raucous and some say incisive view of that unique arena, our shared national sport. The film celebrates casual violence for its own sake, and what else would it do? It’s loaded with stereotypes from the big dumb sweet titular Goon to enough “Eh”s to humiliate the entire population of Canada and ritualistic, highly dramatized yet predictable players and fans.
Hockey fans love it. It is endearing, as in Goon (Sean Patrick Williams who gained a person and a half to play the team enforcer) whose naïveté and good manners come off as a jab at the stereotypically nice Canadian, dumb but sweet. Bi-national comedic actor Jay Baruchel wrote the script and appears as the Goon’s best friend, a sports show host with the foulest mouth since the sewer grate. He’s playing on the Canadian reputation for everything it’s worth in equal measure for good and bad.
A goon is hockey’s tough guy, not necessary skilled in hockey playing, but a necessary deterrent to opposition teams looking for a fight or beat down. The goon identifies and takes down preselected and of-the-moment aggressors who look to interfere with star players.
It’s interesting that the film comes out now as the hockey world reels from the suicides and clinical depression in hockey enforcers. How would you like to go out and bash heads every night for a living and be lauded for it? The New York Times calls them “hockey’s favorite archetype” Three enforcers killed themselves and a fourth died from injuries sustained on the job last year alone. Some are calling for the enforcer role to be eliminated from professional hockey.
Within the milieu of flying fists are buried a couple of plot points –a spoiled star player (Marc-André Grondin) whose entitled attitude brings him down and love (Alison Pill) for our Goon. But the best may be the imminent retirement of a feared goon (Liev Schreiber) who seems to have all his faculties well in place and has the sense to get out while he’s still whole.
Still, this is not an adorable romance as much as a rabble-rousing, pulsating hard skate into the arena of jolts-per-second hockey. The music’s absolutely spot on and includes a stirring bagpipe rally at a crucial moment. Canadians know all about that.
Even so, and this review probably applies more to women than hockey fans, (I know, I know! Don’t write) because trust me, we’re not going to love it. There are few scenes without flying blood, breaking bones or machine gun fire expletives, same ones over and over and over. A failing of vocabulary-challenged writers or a reality of the rink? Search me. But in any case, for some it may be unwatchable.