[Review] – Goon

22 Apr

Title: Goon
Year: 2012
Director: Michael Dowse
Writers: Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg, based on the novel by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith
Starring: Sean William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Liev Schreiber, Alison Pill, Eugene Levy, Marc-Andre Grondin
MPAA Rating: R, brutal violence, non-stop language, some strong sexual content and drug use
Runtime: 92 min
IMDb Rating: 7.1
Rotten Tomatoes: 81%
Metacritic: 64

Goon to me was just one of those films that’s a truly pleasant surprise when you see it. It’s not like it’s a great film or anything, but it is a film that definitely gave me much more than what I was expecting to get from it. It’s a sports movie, hockey more specifically, but you don’t need to know a thing about hockey to enjoy the hell out of this one because it works on so many other levels. It is, for one thing, a really terrific slapstick kind of comedy with really cool characters and, most importantly and impressively, an amount of genuine heart that really took me by surprise and made this film far, far better than most of its contemporaries. And Seann William Scott‘s in it, and he gives a truly winning performance.

Mr. Scott plays Doug Glatt, a big guy who works as a bouncer for a local club, feeling ashamed about what he’s accomplished in his life when he considers that his father and brother are both successful doctors. One day he attends a minor league game with his friend Pat, played by Jay Baruchel who also co-wrote the script, who’s the huge hockey fanatic of the two and as such starts taunting the opposing team, only to have one of its players get mad and climb into the stands to beat him up. But Doug intercedes for his smaller friend, knocking out the player, getting the whole crowd to cheer for him and soon thereafter getting offered a job as an enforcer for his hometown team. An enforcer in hockey terminology refers to one of those players who’s in the game not to play good hockey but to protect those who do on his team with his physical toughness and to fight those who do on the opposing team.

The film manages to marry the rags-to-riches emotional story of sports films like Rudy with the comedic approach to the story of films like The Bad News Bears (the original one). And the success of it is really all because of how great Mr. Scott is as Doug (or as he’s later christened by his team, “Doug The Thug”), he brings a helluva lot of charm to the role and makes Doug an instantly lovable guy, a tough guy with a lot of heart who’s given a chance at his dreams when he’s picked as an enforcer. The catch is that he can’t skate, but like they say, that’s something you learn to do, and enforcing is something you’re either born with or you’re not.

His gift to be tough eventually gets him called up to Canada to play for the Halifax Highlanders, where he’ll play alongside Xavier Laflamme, the team’s star and a player who was once expected to be great but was injured early into his career. And he’ll have to play against Ross “The Boss” Rhea, the legendary enforcer Doug grew up admiring that’s played by Liev Schreiber. Doug’s team needs him to start getting along with Laflamme in order to win some games and secure a playoff berth and he needs to come out on top against his former idol. And it’s just pretty damn fun to watch.

As you might imagine the film is pretty wild when we get the scenes on the ice rink; it’s just non-stop mayhem and violence on ice, and what I loved the most about Goon is that it was quick to recognize this as an essential part of the game. It’s being brutally violent for the sake of being brutally violent, but in Goon that’s celebrated as part of what makes hockey so beloved by its fans, and not like the cavemanesque ritual most movies of its kind make it out to be. And the violence shown really is awesome, and goes really well with the unabashedly crude sense of humor this one is so fond of displaying with so much ease.

What’s just as good as the violence, though, and what actually makes the violence much more enjoyable than it would otherwise be, is the fact that these are characters you can connect to. Like I said, Mr. Scott does a brilliant job at playing Doug like this lovable gentle giant who’s just giving his dream a shot, and it’s awesome when you see him connect with Eva, a diehard hockey fan who has a thing for players. Not to mention that Eva is played by Alison Pill, who I’m a huge fan of and who’s quirky sense of humor plays off Mr. Scott’s nice goofiness really nicely. It’s the balancing act that Goon achieves between the hugely violent and crass and the tender and sweet moments that makes it so damn good.

I’m not a hockey guy myself, basketball’s my thing, but I really loved how Goon was made with so much affection for the sport, and a throwback affection of sorts, honoring what the ritual of the fights means for the hockey culture and its fans and never once concentrating on all the attention that’s recently surrounded the sports because of the concussions suffered by their players. It’s just a hugely entertaining movie that behind all the toughness has a really great amount of heart in it, and it has Seann William Scott delivering what may just be the best performance he’s ever given as Doug; this is a role that asks for him to be the lovable dimwit he’s been typecast as for years, one that benefits greatly from the innocence he can bring to his roles and the stuff he can do with just his face, not to mention he showcases a pretty expert comedic timing here. Goon is a blast, and it has to be one of the very best sports movies of the past few years.

Grade: B+

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