Goon Review: The Fist of F*cking God
I love hockey. I could give a fuck about statistics and team history, about rules and regulations, about who’s scoring more goals or who’s going to the playoffs. I just love to watch hockey. I root for the team that was once feared as the Broad Street Bullies, I went to grad school at the university that consistently dominates the Beanpot in Boston, and for the longest time, my favorite player was Donald Brashear. It’s soccer on razorblades, only you get to beat the fucking merciless shit out of each other. It’s one of the few major sports where you get to carry your weapon on the playing field, and where brawls are not only frequent, but expected. It’s glorious. And while The Mighty Ducks franchise is adorable, it’s been quite some time since we’ve seen a great hockey movie. But here she is, folks. Goon, written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg and directed by Michael Dowse, is the unholy bastard child of Rocky and Slap Shot, with the dynamite mechanics of Major League thrown in for good measure. It’s not so much a movie about hockey as about my favorite part of hockey, the enforcer. It’s hilarious and violent, a sweet love story punched in the face with a knuckle dragging sports blowout, with profanity fountaining out like a shook-up soda can. From the opening shots of blood splattering ice as a tooth slowly tumbles to the rink, asskicking abounds, and from opening buzzer to final bloody dukeout, Goon pummels you with gleeful abandon and you’re left dazed and smiling. Albeit short a few choppers.
Based loosely on former enforcer Doug Smith’s memoir of the same name, Goon tells the story of Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott), a Massachusetts bar bouncer and hockey fan. He and his frenetic web-casting chum Ryan (Jay Baruchel) marvel over legendary thug Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber), an aging bruiser with a remarkable ‘stache and penchant for brutalizing his opponents. Rhea’s on his way out, after serving a twenty-game suspension for breaking a stick across the back of a player’s head. Mouthy Ryan incenses a player at a minor league game, causing him to climb into the stands, where he is beaten senseless by Glatt. And just like that, Doug finds himself in the minors, earning a reputation for skating in and busting the shit out of players on the opposing team. The fights are full on Blades of Steel making #99’s head bleed for the superfans brutal - a marvel of crunching bones and spurting blood. There are cheesesteaks that suffered less at the hands of Sylvester Stallone’s training than the other players at the chucked gloves of the mighty Hebrew Hockey Hammer.
Doug’s like a big sweet dumb animal, Canadian polite but moose rampage brutal with his fists. Despite the lamentations of his doctor father (Eugene Levy), Doug insists that that’s what he’s good at, hurting people. He’s fiercely loyal, like a hurt puppy dog that you sometimes forget has the potential to tear off your face. And that’s what makes Goon so damn good. Doug’s a nice fucking guy, a big dumb ox that gets kicked and punched and hurt but keeps coming back to the stable because he’s got a giant fucking heart. Rather than a milquetoast Adrian, they saddle Doug with the fiery Eva (Alison Pill). Doug’s got a boyish crush on the foul-mouthed darling, who unfortunately has a boyfriend. It’s the only weirdly warped angle in the film — that Doug pines for an attached girl. Her boyfriend isn’t an asshole, so it makes Eva feel like a bad person. And yet, it makes perfect sense that Doug would have to fight for love against someone who isn’t a villain. Just like him skating on the ice and punching the fuck out of players because that’s his job.
And once Doug swiftly makes the majors, he’s got a batch of fucking loons on his team, especially the maniac coach (the superb Kim Coates). Headlining the team is the arrogant Quebecois Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin), a swift superstar who suffered the pimpglove of Rhea and now plays cowardly, despite still harboring that French-Canadian snootiness that makes you just want to collectively blowtorch the entire province into the murky frozen depths, freeze it over, and start anew with some of the more chummy rural folk. Most of the film revolves around Laflamme being a prick and Glatt trying doggedly to support him as a teammate, which seems clichéd, but still is incredibly effective. Rounding out the rest of the team are two mad Russians (George Tchortov and Karl Graboshas), the buttfuck batshit goalie they torment (Jonathan Cherry), the old salt captain prone to heartfelt speeches about his marital difficulty (Richard Clarkin), and his loyal dogsbody sidekick (Ricky Mabe). Each of the teammates is given enough of a thread to be interesting and amusing as shit without becoming a paper tiger to the central stories. There’s so much going on in the film, but it flows so effortlessly and excellently, buoyed by profanity and violence, as one would hope from a hockey movie about shitkicking.
The acting is top notch, with everyone turning in unexpectedly badass performances. Baruchel is at his best when he’s playing the coked-out ferret, spewing swear words and bounding around like Timon on crank. Eugene Levy’s a disapproving dad in this, and it works well. He’s the anti-American Pie, and it’s a small but solid performance. Kim Coates also plays against type, usually the brazen Wildman, but here the kind of brazen Wildman gluing his team in place and corralling cats. In the effort of condensing — every fucking player on the team is awesome. EVERYONE. As the original Major League had a wondrous cadre of misfits, I would make the bold proclamation that Goon’s lunkheads are just about on par. Alison Pill is basically Baruchel’s Ryan with an all-gums smile and boobs, so it would make sense Doug would fall for her. Her chirpy barrage of profanity and cold-weather wrapped abrasiveness make her an odd pairing, but then again Doug’s a strange fucking dude. Liev Schrieber is AMAZING. It’s as if Cotton Weary tried to evade capture by pretending to be Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart. He’s this salty, grumbling menace, but also a pseudo-mentor. He’s a NASCAR Miyagi, someone who’ll throw you in the bottom of a well to teach you to swim and smoke cigarettes until you surface. If you surface. And hurry, cause he needs more Molson. I’ve already been lauding Seann William Scott throughout, but his Doug is yet another performance I didn’t expect out of the former Stifler. Scott manages to balance brutality with sweetness, manners with manhandling, and the end result is a lovable bulldog. You always root for Doug Glatt, and that’s all because of Scott’s spot-on thug you wanna hug performance.
At first, Goon baffled me, because I thought Kevin Smith was doing the ever increasing, potentially gonna get away with him, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Pucks Hit Somebody with Seann William Scott. But for some reason or another, Smith went with Nicholas Braun, the big lanky bastard Billy-Ray from Red State. Which godspeed and good luck, because Baruchel, Goldberg, and Dowse have raised the bar and thrown down the gloves on you. Goon is everything you want in a hockey movie - the hilarious violence of Slap Shot with the heart and mashed up face of Rocky circled by the gaggle of whackjob that is the ensemble of Major League. From the drop of the first puck to the last, ultraviolent and cringe-inducing showdown between Rhea and Glatt (and honestly, if you consider that a spoiler, you’ve never ever seen a sports film, and for shame), Goon delivers. It’s playing in theatres in Canada, but you can still take the chance to see it Video On Demand, iTunes, and YouTube before it opens theatrically some time in April. Catch it, you fucking hoser.