Friday, February 24, 2012
GOON - Review By Greg Klymkiw - A Great Canadian Hockey Movie to follow in the footsteps of Canuck "Lumber-in-the-Teeth" Classics as FACE OFF and PAPERBACK HERO and, of course, the most Canadian Movie Never Made By A Canadian, George Roy Hill's Classic SLAP SHOT
GOON (2011) dir. Michael Dowse
Starring: Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Liev Schreiber, Alison Pill, Eugene Levy, Kim Coates, David Paetkau. Marc-André Grondin
By Greg Klymkiw
I kept wondering when a great Canadian hockey movie would come along. The truly cool Golden Age of Canadian Cinema in the 70s and early 80s yielded George McCowan's legendary Face Off (with its phenomenal rare 35mm footage of actual NHL action from the period), Peter Pearson's Paperback Hero (with the irrepressible 70s anti-hero played by Keir Dullea) and Zale Dalen's lovely ode to famed Saskatchewan kids' hockey coach Father Athol Murray, The Hounds of Notre Dame.
Canadian TV-movies in the 90s briefly flirted with hockey thanks to Atom Egoyan's still-pungent Gross Misconduct (about Brian "Spinner" Spencer) and Jerry Ciccoritti's superb Net Worth, which dealt with the struggle for a players' union and was, according to my Dad, not only a fine rendering of the period, but featured - in his opinion - a brilliant performance by Al Waxman as Detroit manager Jack Adams. Dad told me that Waxman captured Adams to perfection. Dad would know. He played briefly for the Red Wings WITHOUT a union in the late 50s and in spite of being cited by goalie Ken Dryden as a personal hero in his book "The Game" was subsequently booted by Adams after he broke his ankle.
So what happened? Where did all the Canadian hockey movies go? It's the country's God-Given national sport, for Christ's sake!
Well, not much of anything happened. Charles Biname's lame 2005 biopic of Maurice Richard, The Rocket, sadly didn't cut the mustard and as terrific as they were, the 90s TV flicks were revisionist takes on the sport Canadians embrace as steadfastly as maple syrup and beaver(s). And the less said about the loathsome Breakway and utterly inept Score: The Hockey Musical the better.
So basically, no great Canadian hockey pictures existed for 30 years - unless, of course, you count George Roy Hill's immortal Slap Shot with Nancy Dowd's delightfully foul mouthed screenplay, Paul Newman's sparkling player-coach Reggie Dunlop and, of course, the Hanson Brothers. Unfortunately, Slap Shot wasn't Canadian, though it should have been, and at times, sure felt like it.
When the movie came out, I was immersed in the world of hockey whilst hanging out with my Dad during the various promotional tie-ins he orchestrated via Carling-O'Keefe Breweries with both the WHA and Alan Eagleson's various "lost" Canada Cup series. The WHA was, of course, the world leader in bench-clearing brawls and I consider the most momentous occasion of my life to have been actually sitting in the Quebec Nordiques bench during their first bench-clearing brawl with the Winnipeg Jets.
Slap Shot nailed it by so indelibly capturing the on and off-ice atmosphere of hockey that I wasn't the only person in Canada who saw the movie dozens of times - ON A BIG SCREEN. In fact, Slap Shot was a huge hit in Canada, but flopped everywhere else in the world.
Oh, but thank Jesus H. Christ! Ah, fuck it! Thank ace Canadian director Michael Dowse!
The wait is over!
The Second Coming is here!
We are all now blessed with a Great Canadian Hockey Movie and the wait was well worth it!
Call it, The Rapture, if you will.
Based upon Doug Smith's novel "Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey" and with a screenplay co-written by everyone's favourite Canuck comic genius Jay Baruchel, Michael (FUBAR I & II, It's All Gone Pete Tong) Dowse renders yet another bonafide contender for masterpiece status.
Etching the tender tale of the kindly, but brick-shit-house-for-brains bouncer Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) who is recruited to a cellar-dweller hockey team in Halifax to protect the once-promising forward Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), Dowse captures the sweaty, blood-spurting, bone-crunching and tooth-spitting circus of minor league hockey with utter perfection. The camaraderie, the endless bus trips, the squalid motels, the brain-dead fans, the piss-and-vinegar coaches, the craggy play-by-play sportscasters, the bars reeking of beer and vomit and, of course, Pogo Sticks - it's all here and then some.
GOON delivers laughs, fisticuffs, mayhem and yes, even a dash of romance in a tidy package of good, old-fashioned underdog styling. Comparisons to Slap Shot, however, are going to be inevitable. GOON does lack the almost Bunuel-like set pieces of George Roy Hill's untouchable classic. Can anyone ever forget the interview with the Quebecois goalie wherein he describes what it's like to be in the penalty box? "You sit there. You feel shame." Or Paul Newman taunting an opposing team member about his wife going "dyke" with the mantra,"She's a lesbian, a lesbian, a lesbian." Or, finally, can any hockey movie - even a Great CANADIAN hockey movie like GOON ever top the Hanson Brothers and virtually anything they did - from "putting on the foil" to manhandling the Coke machine to smacking the helmets of the opposing team in their bench or the immortal slap shot that sends a puck sailing into the side of the organist's head?
Well, Dowse and his team are smart. They know you don't fuck with the Citizen Kane of hockey movies and instead try to move in a more, shall we say, esoteric direction. Whereas Slap Shot had the legend of Ogie Ogilthorpe, the worst goon in hockey history, GOON manages to go a step further and utilize a fabulous Ogilthorpe-styled character who is all flesh and blood.
Ross Rhena (Liev Schreiber) is the goon to end all goons. (Uh, yeah - Liev FUCKING Schreiber! This is one great actor and he delivers one of his best performances here.) Rhena is, in effect, a goon's goon. And what Dowse and team do here is perfect. They create a character with a bit of sentimental, old guard flavour and in one tremendously moving scene, Doug and Ross meet face to face in some squalid diner and engage in a conversation worthy of every great sports picture that ever featured the grand old man and the eager young up-and-comer.
Right across the board the casting and performances are first rate, but the revelation here is Seann William Scott as Glatt. His sweet, goofy, still-boyish appeal is so infectious, you actually enjoy seeing this happy-go-lucky lug doing what God intended him to do - bust heads.
I also suspect Mr. Scott can finally put his American Pie laurels as the immortal Stifler aside.
Glatt now reigns supreme in Le canon de Scott.
While GOON might not have individual set pieces on a par with Slap Shot, it more than makes up for this with quantity. You will never - in your life - see so much man-on-man carnage on the ice as you will in GOON, and it's not just a matter of quantity - the quality of the carnage is pure, exquisite bravura pulverizing.
It is a beautiful thing!
If Slap Shot is the Citizen Kane of hockey movies, GOON is The Magnificent Ambersons of hockey movies only now, imagine a work that rekindles the butchered glory of Orson Welles's masterpiece, but now on the blood-spattered hockey rinks of Canada!
It is a beautiful thing!
And fuck it, let's stretch the Orson Welles metaphor further. A great director needs a great editor. Welles had Robert Wise (an editor with the soul of a director). Dowse is blessed with Reginald Harkema (an editor with the soul of a director, 'natch!). If there are better editors in Canada than Reginald Harkema, I frankly have no idea who they are. The cutting in this film is utter perfection. Harkema slices and dices both comedy and action with equal aplomb.
Now granted, a director had to get the proper coverage for an editor to work such magic, but I was utterly floored by the cutting of the sequences on the ice. The sense of pace and geography is impeccable. Though Dowse has chosen a cuttier mise-en-scene than George Roy Hill, this doesn't result in the horrible mish-mash of cutty confusion in virtually every other contemporary action sequence. Harkema makes every cut a DRAMATIC beat and this is finally what gives GOON both its drive and emotional resonance.
It is, indeed, a beautiful thing!
If I have one quibble with GOON, it's that the filmmakers, due no doubt to exigencies of financing, chose to shoot in my old winter city of Winnipeg to stand-in for Halifax.
Come on, guys. Is Halifax really that pathetic?
"GOON" is in wide theatrical release via Alliance Films.