Solid hockey movie even if you don't like hockey
However, there's something else in hockey that's helped keep its gladiators in the shadows of the beer-swilling baseball players, showboating basketball players and the football players who play for less than 11 minutes in the course of a game. That's the violence, specifically the fighting, which is ingrained in the pro game, whether there are penalties or not. Football may be turning people away from playing the sport with its violence, but hockey's fist fights and cheap shots make sponsors nervous and casual fans turn away from the screen. For much of the sports era there has been the enforcer, a player whose key (and in many cases only) role is to fight. And that's the kind of player Doug Glatt is.
Son and brother to doctors, Doug (Seann William Scott) isn't quite as accomplished, earning a living as a bouncer after a failed attempt at being a boxer. However, accompanying his loudmouth pal Ryan (writer Jay Baruchel) to a semi-pro hockey game one night puts him in the role of protector when heckling leads a player out of the penalty box and into the stands. Doug's brutal beat-down of the player catches the opposing team's eye, and Doug receives a try-out to be the downtrodden squad's enforcer. Doug can't skate, doesn't know the game and is generally not too bright, but he's tough, doesn't know the word quit and lives to defend people. As a result, he takes to the role quickly, and soon he gets the call to fill a similar role in the minor leagues, acting as the Halifax Highlanders' guardian to a hot-shot rookie named LaFlamme, whose career has come crashing down since suffering a concussion on a big hit.
LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin) is a drug-addled punk though, which doesn't make Doug's job easy, and the team is not too great, made up of a motley crew of arrogant Russians, depressed veterans, a happy-to-be-here follower and a goalie with a wide assortment of issues. There are other problems for Doug as well, like a girl who likes him (Alison Pill, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) but is in several relationships, an enforcing legend (Liev Schreiber) waiting for their chance to finally do battle and parents (one played by Eugene Levy) who are still unapproving of his new-found purpose. Fortunately for him, his positivity (enhanced by his lack of intelligence) and his increasing success on the ice keeps him from getting down, even if, at times, he wants to be something more than "Doug the Thug."
As "The Thug," Scott does a great job of portraying a simple, yet admirable man (though some might say, based on past roles, the simple part is right in his wheelhouse.) The role has some nice depth to it though, as Doug isn't just a lunkhead, but a proud defender (played up through the presence of his gay brother) and loyal friend looking for somewhere to belong. He also gets some of the funniest lines in the movie, including a classic reaction to an upset Pill. Positioning Doug as the inevitable adversary and successor to Schreiber's iconic fighter, and having Schreiber fully accept that as the way things work was perfect crafting by Baruchel and his collaborators along with director Michael Dowse, as it made Schreiber more of a complex villain than he might otherwise have been, and built up to a hugely satisfying climax, even if it's one of the most brutal in sports-film history.
Dowse did a fine job of raising the bar for sports films, balancing on and off-ice action, while trying new ways to film the game that capture the speed and energy of hockey (while thankfully ignoring the temptation to overdo it.) He's aided by an absolutely terrific cast, led by Scott, Baruchel (who is awfully good at playing a wicked Mass-hole), Pill and Schreiber (who was made to play a hockey tough-guy in the twilight of his career.) As the coach of the Highlanders, Kim Coates adds yet more evidence as to why he should be considered one of the most underrated actors working today, while Grondin is excellent as the egotistical Laflamme. The rest of the team is filled with memorable performances, including Ricky Mabe's wannabe leader. There's a whole lot to like about this movie, whether you like the game or not.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack is up to the task of recreating a high-energy sports film, delivering the sounds of the on-ice action strongly, filling the surrounds with the crowd and atmospere, while offering up some nice directional effects in-game. When not in the arena, the dialogue is clean and clear, and the score and soundtrack gets back-up from the side and rear speakers. The final thrust of the film, starting with a blast of bagpipe music, is a soundstravaganza, from the dramatic score and soundtrack to the graphic sound effects.
For more behind-the-scenes info, there's a commentary from Baruchel and Dowse, which carries the tone of the film to the recording booth, making for a fun, loose track. The duo points out details and "secrets" from the set (like the real hockey plays and players the film's based on) and generally have a good time talking about the movie, hockey and why you give hockey players last names with only four letters. It's definitely a good time, though if you like hockey, it's about 100 times better (and if you like Canada you can make that 1000 times.) Plus, massive respect for Dowse for barely veiling his distaste for one of his actors.
There are six deleted scenes, which run about nine minutes long, and can be viewed in one pile or individually. None of them really were needed in the film, as they tend to explain things that you could figure out on your own, and they served only to extend the film. There's more cut footage in the 5:36 outtakes/bloopers reel, which has a few funny moments, including some silliness from one of the Russians, but it's mostly Scott messing up and alternate fight scenes.
If you didn't get enough of Baruchel on the commentary, there's more of him and Scott in an extensive sit-down running nearly half an hour (some of these clips were however re-used in Power Play Mode.) While Scott throws in a few thoughts about the production, it's mostly Baruchel running things, talking about everything from the sport of hockey, his youth in Toronto as a Habs fans, the actors in the film, and the motivation and thought that went into the script. It's a pretty impressive bit of background for looking at the film, as Baruchel shows himself to be a legitimately thoughtful writer.
"HDNet: A Look at Goon" (4:54) is your usual TV promo for the film, mixing footage and interviews, while "Fighting 101" (3:48) is a viral promo for the film, with Baruchel in character, talking about hockey fighting. The clip-fest them continues with "Goalie Auditions" 5:20 of Jonathan Cherry performing scenes from the film in a speedo, in an attempt to win the role of the Highlanders' netminder.
Wrapping things up are a set of Goon hockey cards, with details on the main cast's characters, though because you can't zoom in on the cards, they are hard to read. There's also two trailers for the film, one red-band and one green-band, as well as previews for an assortment of other Magnolia releases.
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