The movie industry is known for taking a character and, through embellishment, exaggeration and distortion, turning it into a caricature. Goon is no different. But in doing so it ends up as an enjoyable movie when there’s nothing better to do. And I thought it got a lot of things right in terms of depicting the enforcer and how the role impacts hockey.
First all I thought the movie was pretty good and I would put it into my top 3 hockey movies. Admittedly the list of well-made hockey movies is short and few capture the skill and the speed of the game. Slapshot is still the favourite of most fans and seems to grow in popularity as it ages. I personally enjoyed Mystery Alaska, although others thought it was weak, and Goon would contend with Miracle on Ice in my list of films.
I approached the film as entertainment and I wasn’t disappointed. Yes it glorifies the role of fighting in hockey but it’s fiction and represents, perhaps cartoonishly (is that a word) the culture that exists in the AHL, ECHL and other minor leagues, The storyline pushes the boundaries of reality but it’s funny and builds tension as you pull for Doug to finally find something where he feels he belongs. There’s the coming climax with the bad guy, Ross Rhea, and his quest to win over the love of his life, puck bunny Eva. He captures the fans with his first fight and helps his teammates gel as a cohesive team by putting his face in front of a puck on the goal line and preserving the win. The Russians on the team are pretty hilarious and give the casual fan a glimpse of the crude humour that exists in the dressing room.
What did the film get right?
- The main character, Doug Glatt, makes the team although he can’t skate and impresses the coach because he beats up his own team during tryouts. Unfortunately, lots of truth there.
- All of Doug’s fights begin with him coming to the rescue of a teammate that was just flattened by a vicious hit. In other words they are acts of revenge. No one was protected and opponents weren’t intimidated into changing their style of play. Just like the NHL where the enforcer takes revenge and calls it “keeping the other guy honest”.
- The scenes are particularly violent and bloody. A bit over the top but it makes the point that these guys do get hurt. When you’re sitting in the stands it’s not as evident but put a movie camera in Doug’s face and you get the damage up close.
- Doug’s parents deliver the message of questioning his role in hockey and caution him about concussions and the long-term damage that can occur from fists to the head. I wish more parents would have that conversation with their sons when they were 16 and looking to make the big leagues on something other than skill.
- Ross Rhea, the ultimate antagonist, is the league’s top fighter and also delivers hard hits intended to injure his opponents. A good mirror of most of the current NHL top fighters who lead their teams in dropping the gloves and delivering cheap shots. To stay in that role you have to continually show your toughness which leads to undisciplined play during your few minutes of ice time.
- When the sideshow bout between Doug and Ross is finally done, the skill takes over. LaFlamme puts on a skating and scoring display and the movie shows highlights while Doug is sitting in the dressing room. Yes you could argue that the fight gave Doug’s team the momentum they needed but it’s more likely that with the goons off the ice the players can skate without fear of senseless brutality.
The climatic fight scene is well staged and has enough embellishment to suspend belief and enjoy it as fiction. Ross warning the refs to stay out of the way – “ …don’t even think about it” – when Doug goes down hard after a vicious punch. I think this scene pays homage to the Karate Kid. The hero goes down hard, obviously in pain after the collapse of one leg. He struggles to regain his footing, steels himself for the coming onslaught and prepares to deal the final lethal blow. The only difference, Doug uses the move known as the Whupping Crane to win the match and the girl.
I’ve read other reviews that tried to attach deeper meaning to Goon, both for supporting the role of fighting in hockey and as an example of everything that is wrong with the game. My advice is to relax and take it as simply entertainment. I’ll give it 8 out of 10 on my scale of hockey movies and I’d watch it again. Hey it’s only a movie and has no connection with the reality of today’s game. Enjoy it for what it is.