It’s been quite some time since we’ve had a genuinely great sports comedy and, indeed, another great ice hockey movie. Slap Shot has been the finest example of this genre for decades, with admirable challenge from Major League, so it’s all the more pleasing that we now have a genuine contender for the title in the form of Goon. Like the best movies of its kind, Goon knows exactly what it is and plays to its strengths throughout, but doesn’t merely go for the option of attempting to re-do Slap Shot with more violence (although it is significantly more violent, more on that later), it recognises that hockey action alone would be nothing without relatable and likeable characters to make you care about the events depicted.
The story of Goon is a simple one. Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott) is a bouncer who’s the black sheep of his family of doctors who finds a new career path in the form of a hockey enforcer for a local team, after making light work of an opposing player who storms into the home crowd to confront his friend. After making a name for himself at a local level, he soon gets recruited by a bigger team who require him to act as an on ice body guard for a phenomenally talented player Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Anre Grondin) who has lost all confidence following a brutal hit at the hands of a notorious enforcer named Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber).
There hasn’t been a film released for years that has catered so fully to my tastes as Goon. Having spent a lot of time growing up watching local hockey teams (Peterborough Pirates, now The Phantoms) the level of excitement seen for enforcers certainly rings true. Sure, it’s great to see the wonderfully skilled players tearing apart defences, but also seeing someone dishing out a monstrous hit or players dropping the gloves to fight is just as, if not more exciting. Having a hockey enthusiast such as Baruchel involved so heavily in the film is a great strength of the film; he has stated in interviews that this is the kind of hockey he grew up watching and it’s the players deemed goons that get his admiration.
I would acknowledge that Baruchel’s character here does grate somewhat, but fortunately doesn’t play as large apart as you’d initially believe, and it’s when his character takes a back seat that the film really gets going. It’s great that, as a co-writer of the film, Baruchel recognised this and showed a lack of ego is this regard, allowing the focus to remain on Sean William Scott and his various relationships in the film. Particularly that involving Eva, played by Baruchel’s fiancé Alison Pill, who delivers another great performance.
I loved how whilst the film has a clear antagonist in the form of Liev Schreiber’s Ross “The Boss” Rhea, an aging enforcer with a formidable reputation, he’s not an antagonist in the traditional sense. A combination of great writing and a damn fine performance from Schreiber make Rhea as sympathetic as a man who goes out of his way to injure people can be. It’s encapsulated in a scene in the final third of the film where Glatt and Rhea share a late night conversation in a coffee house where the mutual respect is clear, as is the fact that their showdown is inevitable. Schreiber is incredibly imposing in this film and looks every part the hockey enforcer, whereas Sean William Scott clearly couldn’t skate but passed it off admirably, Schreiber looked as though he had been doing this for years.
The film is also far from obvious in its choice of what point to end. I won’t go into spoiler territory, but it’s far from conventional for a film of its kind. It’s refreshing when you come across a film where the passion and knowledge of the subject matter of all involved is evident throughout, and that’s certainly the case with Goon. Baruchel and Evan Goldberg have crafted a well balanced and well paced script for Michael Dowse to shoot and assembled a damn fine cast too, with a mixture of actors relishing in their respective roles and local hockey talent adding a sense of believability to the on-ice action.
My love of the sport it’s based on and, indeed, onscreen violence makes Goon an instant classic for me. It will be a film that I will turn to time and time again and thoroughly enjoy, although I will need to be sensible when giving this a star rating as not everyone will have the same reaction to the film as I have. Simon gave the film a three star rating upon the film’s cinematic release, which, for the most part is fair. I acknowledge Simon’s criticisms of the film as valid, but I still had a great time with it, and not only did it hold up on repeat viewings for the purposes of this review, it improved.
Goon is not the greatest, or indeed the most polished film released this year, and I have no doubt that I will see many more films that are technically better, but few films I have seen since matched the levels of fun I experienced when watching it, although Cabin in the Woods and The Raid have come close. Ultimately, I found Goon to be a ridiculously entertaining film that I would strongly recommend to anyone. Sure the levels of ultra-violence would potentially put many off, but at its heart it’s a sweet story of someone finding purpose and meaning in life, and it’ll take a heart as cold as ice not to find something to enjoy in that.
Goon is by no means a pretty film, so it’s perhaps not going to be the greatest example of picture clarity, but it’s certainly passable. Whereas the external shots are quite dark and feature odd instances of grain, for the most part the on ice action is crisp with shots of blood hitting the ice being incredibly vivid. It sounds decent as well, with there being an immersive sense to the in-game action, particularly in the film’s final game. And the showdown features a quite brilliant piece of dramatic scoring by Ramachandra Borcar, which puts across a sense of dread and tension rather brilliantly.
There are a few features here, some of which run for a considerable amount of time, but only a few of them add any real insight to the production of the film. One feature runs for the best part of an hour but is incredibly dry and un-engaging, and is little more than a series of vignettes that add little insight. The features that involve Baruchel heavily are great, as his enthusiasm shines through. As with the majority of extras, these are for the hardcore fans only, and there’s little here that will appeal to casual fans of the film.