Directed by Michael Dowse
Written by Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel
Starring Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Liev Schreiber, Allison Pill, Kim Coates, and Eugene Levy
Rated R for brutal violence, non-stop language, some strong sexual content and drug use.
Running Time of 92 Minutes
2011; 2012 in theaters and VOD
Of all of the major professional sports played in North America, Hockey is likely the least represented in film. The sport’s popularity indeed does not compare to that of baseball or football, but it is perhaps the most visceral and visually stirring of them all and it has the potential to be mined for a wide variety of stories and characters. Goon, from director Michael Dowse and writers Jay Baruchel (co-star of the film) and Evan Goldberg (co-writer of Superbad and Pineapple Express), examines the violence and brutality of hockey with great humor and surprising insight, and it makes for one of the best movies about hockey I have had the pleasure of seeing.
What is most surprising and perhaps most effective about Goon is that it does not pull any punches, pun intended. If we look back at the hockey movies over the past years, the ones that come to mind (The Mighty Ducks, Miracle, Mystery Alaska), regardless of quality, are all relatively tame. Anyone who has attended a live hockey game, however, as I have many times, knows that this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The sport is fast and often elegant, yes, but there is also a strong and prevalent element of violence, fighting, and bloodshed. In no other sport do players tear off their padding and start punching the hell out of each other, and Goon focuses on this specific aspect of hockey with an almost gleeful reverence. Our main character, Doug Glatt, is what is known in ice hockey as an enforcer. Though this title is undoubtedly unofficial, it is used to describe the player on the team who not only protects the best players from harsh play but also cuts down and fights at the end of the day.
It would be enough if Goon were simply an ode to the violence of hockey, and believe me when I tell you that this film is brutal and almost shockingly violent. I am not often vocal when watching films, but I found myself yelping a bit at some of the film’s harsher hits. Goon goes the extra mile, however, by examining the psychology of these men who are known as the enforcers. What is it like to be the one on the team who is expected to be violent? What type of person does this? Doug Glatt, portrayed in an almost revelatory performance by Seann William Scott who is subdued and utterly against type, is a simple and single-minded man, but also an emotional one. In many ways Doug reminds me of Ryan Gosling’s character Driver from the 2011 film Drive. Doug is incredibly good at fighting and inflicting violence, and he can also take it quite while. But he does it because the team needs him to do it; he is protecting his team. Doug may be simple and violent, but he is also a surprisingly gentle and a genuinely sweet man. In many ways Doug is almost a tragic and heartbreaking character, and it becomes incredibly easy to root for him as the film progresses.
Like all great sports films this is an underdog tale in more ways than one. Doug plays for the farm team the Halifax Highlanders, who desperately need a little spice in their lineup despite the presence of once star Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin). As the relationship between Doug and Xavier progresses, as well as Doug’s place within the team as a whole, we see a side of hockey that is perhaps more familiar, but altogether welcome: the camaraderie of being part of a team, something that Doug is incredibly proud of. The film also examines Doug’s relationship with his family and a young woman who fancies him, portrayed by the lovely Allison Pill. In its examination of a fascinating and violent man, the film is incredibly well rounded. On top of that, we are also given the opportunity to look at the flip side of the coin. Portrayed with wisdom and gusto by the great Liev Schreiber, Ross Rhea is an enforcer on the brink of retirement. The way he reflects on his career within hockey and how violence has played into his life as a whole makes for the film’s ultimate thematic resonance and adds insight into a film that is also quite raunchy.
It is no surprise that Goon also serves as an off-the-wall and raunchy comedy. Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel have made their career with that type of material, and the film has more F-bombs and dick jokes than you can shake a stick at. But the cast and in particular director Michael Dowse are able to perfectly balance the tone. The humor comes from within the characters, not from situations. It is believable that this is how these characters would act, and the comedy allows the viewers to feel part of the team. The film is also greatly ingrained with a sense of Canadian pride and flavor; after all, Canada is the country of hockey and that is where the film takes place. That the director and writers are Canadian themselves shines through. If the film has one major flaw, it is the presence of Jay Baruchel. Though I am fond of Baruchel as an actor (I have been a fan since Undeclared), Baruchel serves as the profane sidekick character and he is, for lack of a better word, somewhat annoying. Luckily he does not overstay his welcome, and he is merely a minor disturbance in this otherwise perfectly balanced and humorous examination of the bloodshed of ice hockey.