A good man, a great hockey player
Though he was extremely successful on the ice, his life was hardly the ideal you'd expect for such a legend, a point the film makes impossible to miss, chronicling his humble beginnings through his humble career. Despite a number of injuries, a lack of size, and a need to work when not playing, Richard's desire to play and desire to win overcame most obstacles in his way, including the unapproving father of his girlfriend Lucille (Lindsay Lohan-a-like Julie La Breton.) But there was one obstacle that was more formidable than any of the opponents he faced on the ice.
It's hard to believe today, when the captain of the Canadiens, or Habs to the locals, can be piloried for not being fluent in French, that French-Canadiens were treated badly in Montreal, but that certainly was the case for Richard, who spoke halting English, and suffered for it, getting poor treatment from fellow players and league officials. With the fame he achieved as a hockey player, he had a voice with which to argue for change, and the grit to back up his cause when needed. Under attack on the ice for his success, and off the ice for his unwillingness to accept his treatment, he changed everything in the land of the Habs.
Though the film mines Richard's home life for plenty of drama, and the French-English conflict for social significance, what you'll likely remember long after the film ends are the beautifully filmed hockey scenes, directed with a sure hand by Charles Biname. With Roy Dupuis (who looks like the Canadian Bruce Campbell) in the lead skates, you have no problem believing that Richard could not be stopped by conventional means, as his strong jaw and steely eyes are intimidating even on film. Utilizing some stylish camera work, a dramatic color palette and a cast studded with NHL players like Vincent Lacavalier and Mike Ricci, the filmmakers recreated the wartime NHL with excellent detail, coming off as a pitiless mix of Fight Club and Cinderella Man. Using current NHLers worked brilliantly, as the hockey action is realistic, yet the players aren't out of place when acting. (Plus, NHL ass Sean Avery's scene as New York Rangers goon Killer Dill is a wonderful bit of fun for anyone who's ever hated the punk.)
Though a bit long and rambling at points, thanks to subplots of questionable value, like an ongoing quest for Habs tickets by Richard's brother-in-law, the film manages to keep a good balance between game action and drama, though one montage involving The Rocket's barber was a bit too cute for comfort. When the drama and hockey intersect, it's handled as well as any hockey movie this side of Miracle, mixing fine details and big-picture action expertly to tell the story with the game.
Writer's note: In the rating explanation for The Rocket, part of the reason for the PG rating is "some historical smoking." That's got to be one of the most ridiculous ratings element I've ever seen. What does it even mean?
The audio doesn't bowl you over the way the visuals do, as everything maintains a neat order, with the dialogue flowing from the center channel, and music getting a boost from the surrounds, but it all sounds solid, with nothing negative to note. I expected a bit more from the crowd noise though.
Six minutes of deleted scenes with subtitled French commentary by someone, likely the director, are a nice touch, as the voice focuses on why the scenes didn't make it to the final film. Unfortunately, they aren't available without commentary, so you can't just watch them.
The extras are wrapped up by some trailers, including the U.S. preview for The Rocket. Beware, because it might be the most saccharine trailer ever, barely relating to the film at hand, and coming off like a parody in the vein of the internet-sensation "Shining."
The Bottom Line