When I think of “hockey movies” I think about movies where the sport is at the center of the story: films like Miracle or The Mighty Ducks. Some of the sport’s more notable film entries, however, focus on the darker, violent side of hockey: films like Slap Shot. From the opening moments of the movie, Goon is one of those movies; a loosely based biography of Doug Glatt, a bruiser who was brought into the game not to play the sport, but to beat up anyone who threatened members of his team on the ice. Goon portrays Glatt’s unlikely origins as an enforcer and follows him as he moves from a local team to the minor leagues. Doug’s rise coincides with the end of the career of a legendary enforcer, Ross “The Boss” Rhea, and the film uses the senior player’s retirement both to foreshadow where Doug’s career will likely take him and to set up a climactic conflict between the rookie and the legend.
Doug Glatt, as represented on film, is not a bright guy (the filmmakers have admitted in interviews that they dumbed down their portrayal of him). He is a nice guy and ridiculously strong, but not bright. This makes Sean William Scott, who typically takes on quick-witted, smart-mouthed roles, an interesting casting choice. He’s not who I would first think of for a bruiser like Glatt, but he does an admirable job with the physical elements of the role. Mostly, however, he brings a lot of heart to Glatt, showing the audience there is more to the character than brute strength. He’s an interesting contrast to Glatt’s buddy Ryan, a fast-talking hockey fanatic played by Jay Baruchel, who also co-wrote the film’s screenplay (along with Evan Goldberg, who usually writes with Baruchel’s buddy Seth Rogen).
What makes Doug an interesting character, much like simpletons like Being There’s Chauncy Gardner, is that his simple mind affords him a different perspective. He is brought into the minor leagues specifically to protect the team’s star player, the arrogant (yet talented) Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin). Laflamme has tasted fame due to his skill on skates and it’s gone to his head, with the player now more focused on drugs and sex than on the game. Glatt, on the other hand, is so new to the sport that he still carries a lot of respect for hockey. Early in the movie we see his team exit the locker room, with everyone skating over the logo except Doug, who tenderly walks around his team’s emblem. That respect becomes infectious, and Doug’s comrades start becoming better people – a fun irony that the person brought in to bust skulls winds up helping the team become better, not just more violent.
Doug’s influence doesn’t just end with his teammates, however. It extends to one of the team’s fans, Eva, who provides the romantic interest for the film despite the fact that she describes herself as a bit of a slut (she has a boyfriend as she starts having a fling with Doug). Alison Pill continues to show a tremendous amount of versatility with this role, which couldn’t be more different from her portrayal of Zora Fitzgerald in Midnight in Paris or her disaffected part in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. While the romantic angle of the movie is probably its weakest element, it also isn’t a part of the story that was designed to take center stage and the screen time with Scott’s slow-but-nice guy and Pill’s worldly woman is interesting.
From the moment we learn about veteral player Ross “the Boss,” a conflict between the two players is inevitable. Still the movie handles the situation quite well, with the two players being aware of each other from afar and even sitting down for a nice piece of conversation and advice while suspended. Liev Schreiber brings a sense of baggage and regret to the veteran player and its interesting to think of his existence serving a dual purpose: both giving Glatt a competitor and showing the younger player his future. These are not men who are paid to play hockey; they are enforcers, but in both men there is still a heart and sensitive side.
Don’t take all my drivel about the depth of these characters too far: this is still a hockey movie and there is a lot of ice time on screen, with a large part of the focus on the violence of the goons. This is the kind of movie that could get away with some of the shaky-cam of contemporary films, but it doesn’t resort to that – the action on the ice is easily followable but still dramatic and engaging. With less budget and time, this little film manages a presentation that eclipses so many large-scale blockbusters proving that filmmaking doesn’t have to be about the size of the budget.
Admittedly, Goon is not going to be for everybody. While it does have a lot of heart and some good laughs, it is still a movie about a guy who is hired to beat other people up, and the movie never touches on the ethical ramifications of hiring someone for that purpose within a sport. Still, with some awfully good performances and an enjoyable “sports movie” story, Goon is worth it for the people who love to watch blood bounce on ice.