I never thought I’d use “heartwarming” and “exquisitely violent” in the same sentence, but Goon definitely earns that distinction. From the first moment in the opening credits, when droplets of blood and a dislodged tooth spatter onto ice over the title card, I was riveted and ridiculously entertained.
Much of the credit goes to Seann William Scott, who embodies hockey enforcer Doug Glatt in endearing, enthusiastic form. His role is based on the real-life story of Doug Smith (by way of the book Smith co-wrote with Adam Frattasio, Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey).
My gut reaction is to say director Michael Dowse’s comedy isn’t your typical sports-movie fare, but that’d be misleading. It’s chock-full of on-ice skirmishes, announcer-narrated action, locker room humor and team bonding moments. What makes Goon stand out from the pack, however, is its heartbeat: the phenomenal Scott, who binds the narrative together with his magnetic presence. There’s a love story (with local girl Eva, played by the adorable Alison Pill) that’s refreshingly sweet, palatable for both men and women and adds yet another facet to this intensely human tale. This is a flick you can bring your girlfriend to, boys; they may dig in their heels, but once they’re seated they’ll be entranced.
I grew up watching hockey in Upstate New York, and while I’m well aware that crowds attend simply for the fights, I didn’t know much about enforcers. Goon delves into the background of those players brought onto the ice simply for their muscle power, and it attacks and explores the short shelf life of that role.
The film begins with Doug, a club bouncer who hasn’t quite found his place in life. His raunchy best friend Ryan (Jay Baruchel, who wrote the screenplay with Superbad‘s Evan Goldberg) is a hockey aficionado, running his own Internet show called Hot Ice, wherein he enthusiastically recaps on-ice fights and dramatics — namely, the unfolding story of Ross Rhea (the always-excellent, especially grizzled Liev Schreiber), a famed enforcer past his prime recently suspended for unnecessarily violent acts.
When Doug and Ryan attend a local game, Doug’s prowess as a brawny tough guy is put on display when a wayward player attacks him in the stands. He becomes an overnight Internet sensation thanks to Ryan’s web show, which eventually lands him on a hockey farm team as an enforcer. He’s transferred to Canada to play for the Halifax Highlanders, where he earns the trust of a raggedy group of players — most notably Marc-Andre Grondin as Xavier Laflamme, a former golden boy who fell from grace after a run-in with Rhea, and Richard Clarkin as team captain Gord Ogilvey, a recently divorced alcoholic. Truly, the entire Highlanders team is great, from the wisecracking Russian twins to the goalie.
The narrative focuses on Doug’s journey into a world where he finally belongs, essentially, beating up dudes who threaten the people he cares about. He’s a moral, hard-working guy, if not a bit simple, and there isn’t a single moment when we doubt his plight. Scott nails the intricacies of the character; this is unlike anything you’ve seen from him thus far. The chemistry between Scott and Pill is incredible, with the two pulling off a love story between average folks that’s awkward, funny, cute and messy, and never falls into the trap of slinging cliched phrases or grand gestures. So much of Goon is real — regular people, relatable situations, understandable hurdles.
If you, like me, are bit of a violence-phobe, I’ll admit there’s plenty of bloodshed, but it’s not without warrant. My inner hockey coach would tell you to suck it up and deal, because Goon can take its place among the greats in sports-movie history.
Goon opens today in select cities, and is available on video on demand.