Friday, June 27, 2014

Goon (2011)

Director: Michael Dowse

Quick, One-Timer Summary

Doug Glatt is a simple young man living in small town in Massachusetts. He's big. He's strong. He's a bouncer. He's not very bright, but he has a good heart. Doug is generally a pleasant fellow, though he does lament the fact that he doesn't seem to have a real purpose in life.

One night, at a local minor league hockey game, Doug's purpose presents itself. When an unruly player for the visiting team charges into the stands while screaming homophobic slurs, Doug, whose brother is gay, absolutely destroys the vulgarian with his bare hands. This earns him a walk-on tryout from the local team's coach. Though Doug can barely skate, he becomes just proficient enough to stay upright and become a first-class "hockey goon" - a player whose sole purpose is to fight in defense of the more skilled players on his team.

Though Doug's a complete teddy bear off the ice, woe be to
any player whom he sizes up for a Biblical beat-down.
Doug's prodigious fighting prowess soon earns him a promotion to a more legitimate farm team, where he's tasked with serving as enforcer for an immensely talented but selfish and skittish young French Canadian named Xavier Laflamme. Doug overcomes the doubts of his teammates and earns their respect as an earnest, supportive comrade.

In the final game of the season, Doug's team is in a must-win game against a rival that features the most respected and legendary goon in the minor league hockey ranks - Ross "The Boss" Rhea (Liev Schreiber), a narrow-eyed, chain-smoking, savvy, calm, and tough-as-pig-iron veteran who knocks people out in the manner that most humans discard a used tissue. Doug's stand-off with Rhea is a dream scenario for every hockey fan with bloodlust in his or her heart.

Did I Like It?

Right off the stick - no, Goon is not as good as Slap Shot. But man, it's not that far off.

This was the second time that I watched this movie, and I love it. Though it can be a little uneven in just how stupid Doug is portrayed, it does nearly everything that it sets out to do very well.

The greatness that is Slap Shot and Goon are due to their focal subject matter - the unnecessary and idiotic yet often entertaining violence ingrained at many levels of hockey. Let's face it: most of these guys are not Rhodes Scholars. They play hockey. Some of them fight a lot on the ice. Nearly all of them curse a ton. And very few of them are aware of just how funny they can be - often unintentionally. Where Slap Shot gave us the ultimate comedic panoramic of minor league hockey culture, Goon gives us an oddly endearing and hilarious character study.

Doug is a great character, and Seann William Scott was a perfect casting choice. Doug is the textbook case of a man whose heart is vastly larger than his brain. The fact that he's an absolute tank whose fists are, as his gloriously vulgar best buddy Pat puts it, "bigger than my uncle's f****n' prostate," gives the story a soulful element that even a hands-down classic like Slap Shot is missing. You pull for Doug in the same way you pull for Rocky Balboa. Sure, Doug's not fighting for the heavyweight title, but his battles are just as epic in their way.

Featuring one of the best build-ups ever in sports film,
we're treated to the final confrontation between veteran
and rookie warriors - Rhea versus Glatt.
So enough with the mushy stuff. How are the fights? They're bloody awesome. If you enjoyed the thrill of seeing Mickey "The One-Punch Machine Gun" O'Neil do his thing in the ring in Snatch, you'll love what Doug does to the obnoxious ruffians on opposing teams. I'm probably revealing a bit of my own bloodlust here, but I find the thrashings that Doug dishes out wonderfully entertaining. And the elder statesman of goonery - Ross "The Boss" Rhea - is played to perfection by Liev Schreiber. Rhea's self-awareness of his station in the hockey world is a nice counter-point to Doug's innocence.

But there's an interesting revelation about the fights: there is, among certain practitioners of goonery, a kind of code that nearly borders on chivalric rules of engagement. At the beginning of one hockey match in the film, before the puck even drops, an opposing player and fellow enforcer (played by former real-life NHL enforcer Geroges Laraque) calmly turns to Doug and asks, "You wanna go?" Doug replies, "Okay, yeah." The instigator gives an earnest, "Good luck, man." The two punch the hell out of each other for a while, get separated, and the opposing player nods his head and offers Doug a "Good fight, man." Doug responds with a simple, "Thank you." There is a certain old-world charm about the entire exercise in ritualized violence.

So here's where I overthink it and almost doubt myself. Could Goon be a satire, perhaps even unintentional, for United States militarism? Or could it be seen a misplaced but humorous apology to excuse bloody violence? Are we supposed to think that Doug's lone stand-out talent - pummeling people into pulp - has merit as long as his heart's in the right place? Maybe so. Maybe not. Either way, there is something a bit deeper to be explored when one considers what, if any, greater message is being conveyed.

Whatever the case, I can't help but return to one simple axiom when I watch a movie like Goon: It's more important to be kind than to be intelligent. Doug is admittedly far from intelligent, but he has more than enough heart to go around, and he just wants comrades who need him and whom he can defend. These themes make Goon a bit more than just a solid sports comedy, and worth your time if you've no strong objection to some fairly graphic hockey violence.