In 10 Words or Less
Fear and loathing in Laval, Quebec
Made by Canadians, about Canadians, for Canadians, The Chiefs is a snapshot of small-town hockey. The Laval Chiefs, of Quebec's semi-pro LHSPQ hockey league, are modeled after the Chiefs of the legendary hockey film, Slapshot. That means they fight...often. Chiefs hockey is violent and vicious, and the fans, including "Belt Guy," a middle-class super-fan who makes his own Chiefs Championship belts, while praising his team in his heavily-accented English, wouldn't have it any other way.
This documentary follows the team through one of their seasons, focusing on the main fighters. Mike Henderson, the team's star, and a father of a little girl, has a mix of pugilist and scorer, which makes him more valuable to the team than a Brady Austin, a young guy whose hands are better tools when they aren't holding a hockey stick. How their particular talents work into the team plan affects their personalities and their attitudes, and can create some bitter feelings at times.
No one represents this more than 6'4" 265-lbs. Tim Leveque, a former military man who signs on with the Chiefs as a mercenary. Far from anything you might consider normal, he scares his own teammates with his intensity, and when he leaves the team to, as he claims, join a pro league, it points out how fragile these careers are. His story is at the core of what this film is attempting to illustrate.
These guys don't make a living playing hockey, but they couldn't live without it. That's why they are willing to put their health on the line each night they step on the ice. A mix of ego, machismo, pride and perhaps desperation is the fuel in their tank, keeping them playing through the low points (of which there are many.) A tour of the players' "apartments" makes it clear that glamour is not found in the LHSPQ, as they actually live under the bleachers, and the ceilings are slanted, like the rows of seats. That the entrance to one player's living room is also the fire exit on game day just points out what kind of life these players are living.
The story of the Chiefs is incredible neat and tidy, with everything a documentarian could ask for in a subject. From the progress of the season, to side concerns for some of the players, to epilogues that hammer home the film's point, this is as close to a standard Hollywood plot that a documentary could come without risking a fake feel. Anyone who finds the themes of sports (loss, redemption, victory, etc.) interesting should have this film on their list.
The Chiefs (or Les Chiefs) is available exclusively in Canada, through Seville Pictures. The disc is packaged in a standard keepcase, with no insert. The main menu is full-frame and static, with some theme music, and offers options to play the film, select scenes, set up the audio and check out the special features. The scene selection menus feature still previews and titles for each scene, and the set-up menu has the choice of English, French and a directors commentary. There are no subtitles or closed captioning.
The full-frame video on this DVD is in pretty good shape, but it's still video, and not film. Colors seem to burn a bit bright overall, especially the reds, while blacks are OK, but not great. Game footage tends to look softer, grainier, and a bit washed-out, while the interviews look a bit better. Some amateur footage is used as well, which is obviously of a lower level of quality. The interviews aren't the best set-ups, but it's not bad. Skin-tones seem to have a bit of a red tint to them, but overall, it's natural looking. There's no evidence of any transfer issues.
The audio, presented in Dolby 2.0, isn't a very active track, but it sounds good for a documentary. The dialogue is recorded well, and reproduced without distortion. There's some music used in the background, but it doesn't affect the mix negatively.
Little-known Canadian studio Seville Pictures has answered the call when it comes to this DVD, putting together a rather packed disc. Starting things off is a feature-length commentary, featuring director Jason Gileno and producer David Bajurny (one of the Chief's brother.) The two are very comfortable behind the mic, talking about the experience of making the film, sharing behind-the-scenes information and generally expressing their thoughts about the subject matter and what ended up on film. The feel is very conversational, and entertaining enough to listen through to the end.
The deleted scenes unreel in one 24-minute block, featuring more with "Belt Guy", extended interview sequences with the players and scenes from the players' mundane daily lives. Nothing here would have made the film better, and it may have made the film drag, so it's better off as a supplement. All that extra footage allowed the creators to poke a little fun at hockey culture too, with "Hockey Cliches." It's simply two minutes of quick-edits showing how programmed the language of hockey is. (The same can be said about all sports, for that matter.) Seeing how many times these guys say the same phrase is a cute idea for a featurette that really works for a sports movie.
Fight fans can get their fix with this DVD, as there are three featurettes about the rough stuff. "Virtual Fight School" is a five-minute tutorial with Austin, as he explains the techniques used in hockey fights. Anyone who has seen a fight will recognize what he's doing, but may not realize the science behind it, making this an interesting bonus. Two "best of" clip fests are also included, with just under four minutes of fight montage chaos in "The Chiefs' Greatest Hits", and "Top 10 Fights," which features 10 complete throw-downs from the season documented in the film. Considering these are not taken from television coverage, these are well shot and are pretty entertaining, especially one featuring former NHL maniac Link Gaetz.
Also included are text bios of the director and producer and the main characters, and the film's full-frame trailer.
The Bottom Line
Without NHL hockey, most any chance to watch the game being played becomes more and more valued. This disc serves as a reminder though of why pro hockey is in the trouble it's in, and that's the dark, violent side of the game. While the film focuses on the rough-and-tumble side of the game, there's also the humanity of the players, which is the real reason to watch this film. Following these guys through their season lets you get to know them, which makes the ending much more powerful. The DVD presentation is well-done, with a good selection of bonus features, which will appeal to fans of hockey and just about any sport. The themes here are universal, and ultimately touching and sad.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.