A few months ago, I was lucky enough to see the movie Goon, based on the small press book by Adam Frattasio and Doug Smith at the starz Denver Film Festival. My review of the film: I loved it. It was funny, had a lot of heart, the hockey looked great, and while it could at times be brutal to watch, it was great fun. The movie starts off with blood falling to the ice, and it ramps up from there.
(I posted the red band NSFW trailer below. It’s better)
One of the things I’ve been asked a few times is whether or not, in the context of the awful tragedies that unfolded this past summer, if it was tasteless to release a movie that ‘celebrates’ hockey fighting.
The short answer is no, it isn’t tasteless. And the movie doesn’t necessarily celebrate hockey fighting.
The movie follows someone who stumbles into a ‘career’ as a minor league hockey fighter, and who not only likes his role in the sport, finally finds one place where he is comfortable in life. He is still a square peg in the round hole of hockey, growing up with little to no ambition to be involved in the sport, beyond going to games with his super fan friend. His family wants him to do something more with his life, but while his brother is a doctor, he isn’t going to go down that path. He is invited to a tryout with the local hockey team for his ability to fight. When he finds hockey, it’s a cultural learning curve for him, and some of the comedy from the film comes from that. And some of the comedy comes from the fighting.
There’s the one punch knock out. There’s the fight with his own teammates. And while, like most movies this side of the latest Mission Impossible, our hero tends to bounce back from the fights and injuries a little too quickly, over time you see the accumulated effects of the fights. But still, the fighting is mostly… funny.
Yeah, I said it. There is some slapstick to the fights. And like all good movies, the context is certainly being manipulated. When a fight is meant to be funny, you know. And when one is meant to be dark and upsetting, you feel it. The movie plays both sides while focusing on how those sides affect our hero.
Then you think of the classic hockey movie to end all hockey movies, Slap Shot. The comedy came from hockey fighting and violence on the ice. We are much more forgiving of Slap Shot because of the era it was filmed in, and we take it in that context. Just like people are taking the idea of Goon in the context of the era it’s being released in. But make no mistake, Slap Shot would be a crap movie if all the scenes with fighting and violence were taken out.
I feel like I’m defending something that doesn’t have to be defended. Fans of hockey and casual observers had their attitudes shifted, or at least questioned, after the deaths of Derek Boogaard, Wade Belak and Rick Rypien. And still, hockey fighting exists. Sites like hockeyfights.com are still running. Puck Daddy still posts videos of the fight of the night. Fighting is still part of the rules of hockey, and still accepted at the professional level. It seems like everyone likes a good fight, but don’t like to look at it afterwards, like a drunken one night stand.
When I became a hard core fan of the game, I didn’t understand hockey fighting. I didn’t realize why it existed. Now I understand why it is part of the sport, even if I think it is less useful or necessary than before. I think it’s being phased out, which isn’t a bad thing. There are fewer and fewer reasons to ask the players to police themselves, and fewer players in that role that I want to see make that judgement call. Players and enforcers are bigger and stronger, and there are more opportunities for injuries in fights than ever before. Maybe in the past, when players drank beer after the games and workouts consisted of having a walk around the block, getting punched in the head repeatedly by a 1970s era doughboy wasn’t that dangerous. Today, things are different, from bigger players to more practiced and skilled fighters dropping the gloves.
I can understand the world turning it’s back on hockey fighting while ignoring the long term effects of boxing and cheering on UFC fights. It’s only a little hypocritical in the larger picture, but that’s fine. The fans can be more than black and white about the issue. Hockey fighting can be harsh and awful AND at time necessary and worthy of attention. The people who fight in hockey can be celebrated AND their chosen skill can be less acceptable than before. The conversation and attitudes can evolve beyond hockey fighting being simply good or bad.
There is more to the movie Goon than a few hockey fights. It’s a story that centers around a hockey fighter. And it is a comedy. In fact, it’s a damn good comedy. And if you aren’t so turned off by the subject going in, you might enjoy yourself if you see it. It has all the elements of a good hockey movie.
And it deserves your time, attention and money much more than the latest Michael Bay blockbuster. There are plenty of people willing to go to Transformers 10: Turn On Your Headlights. Goon is a movie for us. It was made by hockey fans, and you can tell. See it before you decide what it really is.
UPDATE: This is the red band (NSFW trailer) which is much better than the one above. I think it better represents the movie and it’s story. Remember, NSFW language: