Review: Goon (2012)

Like the film’s dim-witted hockey enforcer protagonist, Goon knows what it is and is content to be so. Goon is a rough, rude hockey comedy, and because it is content to focus on a limited sphere of activity (minor hockey leagues and their surrounding subculture), the film succeeds. In fact, this is one of the best sports comedies I can remember.

Seann William Scott is Doug Glatt, a slow-witted hulk in a Jewish family of doctors living in a small town in Massachusetts. Feeling purposeless in his life, Doug is anxiously happy to be brought onto the local minor hockey team after he punches out a loudmouthed player at one of the games. Though Doug can barely skate, he soon finds his niche on the ice as an enforcer—the tough guy who blocks, hits, and fights the opposing team’s players, while protecting his own team’s talent. Like Doug, the film is a little shaky at first (the scenes in Massachusetts are roughly paced), but Goon finds its legs and hits a stride when Doug arrives in Canada to play for the semi-pro Halifax Highlanders.

Doug’s job is to protect Xavier Laflamme (Marc-André Grondin), the coked-out star of the team. Jay Baruchel is Doug’s super-obnoxious friend. Liev Schreiber plays Ross “The Boss” Rhea, a former big-time enforcer who’s been sent down to the minors after a Marty McSorley-esque cheap shot. Schreiber pulls off a surprisingly solid Canadian accent, possesses enough screen presence to convey Rhea’s past glory, and finds the right balance of exaggeration and seriousness to complement the film’s tone.

Most importantly, the film gets the subculture of hockey! First off, it’s mostly set in Halifax. Screenwriters Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg and director Michael Dowse understand that if you want to truly explore the world of minor hockey, you’d best look outside the major metropolises (obviously, forget LA and New York, but even Toronto). Secondly, the filmmakers recognize hockey’s working-class origins. Thirdly, the film celebrates, but also obliquely criticizes, the drinking and swearing that surround hockey, as well as the violence. Moments of violence are definitely exaggerated though. Fourthly, the film has an eye for the details of the hockey world, and pokes fun at them. For example, at one point the camera lingers on a large portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in a rink, the image of the regal monarch standing out yet at home in the rowdy setting. When they play the Quebec team, the camera notes how humongous the Quebec flag is in comparison to the Canadian and American ones. The Highlanders team is a perfect microcosm of hockey. The coach yells a lot, the captain is a grizzled veteran in the middle of a divorce, there are two dirty-joking Russians, the crazy goalie is from Regina, and the star player is French Canadian. I particularly enjoyed how the regular announcer says all sorts of ludicrous things that we almost miss because he says everything in that hockey announcer voice.

After all the talk in the news about concussions in hockey, or because you’re not into seeing teeth knocked out and blood spilled on the ice, you might find this movie repugnant. I don’t think Goon is for everyone. But for those of you who’ve spent too many days in dingy rinks, and too many nights in dingier bars afterwards, you’ll appreciate the little details as well as the in-you-face humour of this rough, rude hockey comedy.

8 out of 10

Goon (Canada/USA, 2012)

Directed by Michael Dowse; written by Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg; starring Seann William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Marc-André Grondin, and Liev Schreiber.