Originally appeared in BeatRoute Magazine.
I would compare Michael Dowse’s hockey epic Goon to Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, but that might earn me a deserved punch in the face. On the surface, Goon is the likely heir to a throne left vacant by Slapshot, one that has resisted succession by saccharine feel-good hockey movies and Mighty Ducks-clones. But, like all of Dowse’s work, there’s a lot of heart and thought bubbling under the surface.
Goon is the story of Doug Glatt (Sean William Scott), a brawler who gets the attention of a hockey coach with a muscle problem. The toughness Glatt brings to the roster gets him notice from a Halifax farm team where Glatt is assigned to protect a former wunderkind they want back in the big leagues. Along the way he gets his ass kicked a bunch, and meets a nice lady.
Many people will watch Goon and just see that — a simplistic fighting and hockey with some half-hearted jokes thrown in for good measure. But Dowse is not a dumb as the Goon his movie focuses on. The director has made a career out of making films about dumb people, and he always manages to find a deep humanity in them. He’s got it down to a science by now, and loves his characters in an infectious way.
Fubar and its sequel are much loved for their catch-phrases and quotidian aspects, but nobody denies the thumping heart at the core of those films. Dowse’s crowning work so far, the excellent It’s All Gone Pete Tong, followed a similarly pitiable figure, but was never a mean-spirited work. As it was with these films, it is with Goon.
As played by Scott, Doug Glatt is nearly non-functionally stupid. His stupidity is pounded home with every opportunity, but so is his unflappable kindness, a feat through the judicious pummelings. This is where Dostoyevsky comes in, his idiot reflected nicely in Glatt. Through that stupidity, he’s implied to know some deeper truth about what it means to be a good person. Unadulterated by ego, Glatt just wants to protect his teammates, and if that means breaking a few deserving teeth, so be it. Mike Leigh covered similar ground in the excellent Happy-Go-Lucky, but the people who see Glatt’s kindness as a weakness are usually beating the hell out of him instead of just being rude and dismissive.
Though that team spirit and thick-headed dedication to the protection of his teammates is portrayed as a simple nobility, Dowse doesn’t give the violence of sports, or the glorification of the fighting that makes hockey unique, a free pass. While the idea of a less-than intelligent white man fighting to protect his team-mates is about as hawkish as it gets, Dowse puts the action set-piece experience he gained from Pete Tong’s Ibiza club scenes to good use in examining the brutality of the sport. Bruises last, bones are broken, body parts are busted and slashed and cut to no real end with gripping realism and fidelity.
Slapshot made the violence of hockey a punchline, but Goon opts to make it a noble farce, something undertaken for reasons that don’t withstand scrutiny. Some might call the film a critical allegory of Bush Doctrine foreign policy, but they’re probably just hosers.