Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: Goon (2012) earns our respect by respecting itself.

92 minutes
rated R

by Scott Mendelson

On the surface, Goon is an assembly-line underdog sports movie.  And yes the film hits a handful of familiar story beats along the way.  But there is a subtle intelligence to the picture, with characters that are far less broad than you'd expect and a screenplay that feels authentic.  I don't know hockey well enough to judge its accuracy, but I can say that the film feels like it intimately understands the sport as well as the people who play it.  Hockey is not a sport that has inspired very many movies, so when I say that Goon is one of the best films about the sport I've ever seen that may seem like a backhanded compliment.  But it is easily the best hockey movie since Miracle, for whatever that's worth.

The narrative concerns Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott) as a bar bouncer who lucks into a spot on a minor league hockey team via his 'bouncing' skills.  Point being, while it he is not mean or aggressive, he can and will deliver a brutal thrashing if you cross him in a manner that seems to merit physical altercation.  One such incident, where he is assaulted by a hockey player at a local game results in a public beat-down, results in him being recruited to join up as an 'enforcer', which is basically what it sounds like.  Doug can't skate and certainly can't shoot with much skill, but he can beat the crap out of opposing players if the situation calls for it.  This is all standard stuff, as is a subplot about feeling like the black sheep of the family, his romance with a local woman (Alison Pill) and conflicts between himself and the more seasoned players on his team (shocker - team work matters too!).  But director Michael Dowse, along with writers Evan Goldberg and Jay Baruchel (Baruchel has a glorified cameo here) don't treat their story as anything groundbreaking and they instead concentrate on character development.

Doug has a refreshing acknowledgment of his lack of intelligence that earns our sympathy, and his relationship with Pill's Eva is frankly more adult and unromanticized than one would expect.  Eugene Levy has a few moments of down-to-Earth disappointment as the patriarch, and Kim Coates relishes an opportunity not to be playing a scuzzy-looking thug as the team's coach.  Most enjoyable is Liev Schreiber as Ross Rea, a veteran 'enforcer' on the verge of retirement who is both Doug's hero and possibly his final challenge.  Schreiber gives a real performance here, and he has one great third act moment which very nearly mimics a classic scene from Michael Mann's Heat.  While the film is rated R and contains copious hockey-related violence and profanity, it is not a hard-edged or even overtly vulgar picture.  It is a sweet and humanistic comedy that happens to take place in a very R-rated world.  Goon doesn't break any cinematic ground except that it exists as a rare high-quality film set in the world of hockey.  Seann William Scott delivers a fine star turn, ranking alongside The Rundown and Role Models as one of his best performances.

I'm sure if I knew more about hockey I would have enjoyed the picture even more.  But the fact that I know next-to-nothing about the sport yet enjoyed this movie shows just how surprisingly good and accessible Goon happens to be.

Grade: B+

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