Movie Review: Goon

NOTE: This review is spoiler-free.

I knew all along that Goon was going to be a great movie for two reasons:

1. It had a hard time getting a theatrical release in the United States

2. Everyone who saw it made comparisons to Slap Shot.

You might think that any movie that had trouble finding a mainstream release is a bad movie. And in most cases, you would be right.

But I knew Goon would be great because of that. Hockey is a tough sell in the United States. A hockey movie is even a tougher sell, and yet Goon does not sell-out, pander, cater or kowtow to help reach a wider audience. No dumbing down or awkward, “after the fact” edits to make it more commercial.

After watching Goon, you can tell that director Michael Dowse and screenwriters Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg made the picture that they wanted to make: a film that is violent, funny and has a good story. The “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” of hockey movies, one that is truly worthy of Slap Shot comparisons.

Speaking of which, no one would dare compare a bad movie to Slap Shot, except for Universal when releasing a bad Slap Shot sequel. If other fans who have seen both movies say Goon is the Slap Shot for this generation, then Goon must have a lot going for it.

And it does. For starters, the source material is solid. Goon is based on a book about former minor league enforcer Doug Smith, entitled Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into Minor League Hockey.The film is a fictionalized account of the start of Smith’s hockey career. Seann William Scott (from American Pie and Dude, Where’s My Car?) plays Doug Glatt, a bouncer at a bar and fan of hockey fights.

Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt in Goon
Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt in Goon [Magnolia Pictures]

Feeling down on his luck, Glatt goes to a hockey game with his best friend Pat  (played by Baruchel), who decides to mercilessly heckle a visiting player. Enraged, the player climbs into the stands to confront Pat, only to be punched out by Glatt. This leads to a tryout with the local team. Despite not being able to skate, Glatt still makes the team and does a good enough job at enforcing to get called up to the next level.

Now with the Halifax Highlanders, Glatt is charged with defending teammate Xavier Laflamme, a former first round pick who lost his confidence after suffering a grade three concussion. His injury was caused by Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber), a legendary enforcer and a hero to Glatt. Widely feared, Rhea is winding down his career in the minors and wants to go out with a bang. Ultimately, a showdown between these two pugilists is inevitable.

Liev Schreiber as Ross "The Boss" Rhea in Goon [Magnolia Pictures]
Liev Schreiber as Ross “The Boss” Rhea in Goon [Magnolia Pictures]

(RELAX — this is foreshadowed by the movie poster, promotional photos and early on in the film. Like I said, no spoilers here.)

Glatt epitomizes the romanticized version of a hockey enforcer: fists of steel and a heart of gold. Like real-life enforcers, Glatt’s willingness to protect his teammates and his pride in being a part of something bigger than himself makes him an endearing character to the audience and to the other Highlanders.

Jay Baruchel and Seann William Scott in Goon
Jay Baruchel and Seann William Scott in Goon [Magnolia Pictures]

Title: Goon
Director: Michael Dowse
Writers: Jay Baruchel & Evan Goldberg
Starring: Sean William Scott,
Liev Schreiber, Jay Baruchel
Release Date (Canada): 2-24-2012
Release Date (USA): 3-30-2012
Video Release Date: 5-29-2012
Time: 92 minutes
MPAA Rating: R
Buy it: DVD or Blu-Ray
Digital: Stream or Rent

Another element that makes Goon work so well is the humor, the dirty, hilarious, not-for-children, definitely R-rated locker room humor. A lot of the vulgarity is dished out by Pat, who seems to be either cursing a blue streak or comparing something in hockey to a bizarre sex act. (Even Bruce Boudreau would blush). Two Russian teammates of Glatt also have a lot of fun at the expense of the Highlander’s irate, French-Canadian goalie (don’t worry — he is NOT a rehash of Dennis Lemieux from Slap Shot). In one scene, the two Russians have a “special moment” with the goalie’s mask. In another, more tame joke, a famous quote by Don Cherry becomes the basis of a prank.

Goon does not apologize for violence, but it does not glorify it either. Bones break, blood splatters and teeth fly — sometimes in slow motion. Close ups and quick editing make you feel like you are in the midst of the melee. In one telling scene, Glatt is fighting an opponent, much to the amusement of a little girl in the stands. Glatt then punches his opponent so hard that the player’s face hits the glass, smearing blood all over it. The little girl’s smile is now gone, her face awash in horror.

Sean William Scott as Doug Glatt in Goon [Magnolia Pictures]
Sean William Scott as Doug Glatt (right) in Goon [Magnolia Pictures]

At its core, Goon  has a good story that, at just a bit over 90 minutes, keeps skating forward, never getting bogged down in any of the subplots. And thankfully, the whole moral issue about fighting in hockey is avoided. How could we be expected to enjoy the fights in the film if we are then asked if fighting is wrong?

Goon won’t make any new hockey fans, but that’s okay, because that was never its intention. It is a comedy about hockey that delivers both comedy and hockey in its own bloody, cursing, uncompromising way. Slap Shot fans rejoice — Goon is the follow-up you always wanted.

Rating 5 out of 5Not a perfect movie, but a perfect hockey movie. Anyone who doesn’t blush easily or shy away from the rough stuff will love Goon.

Author: Sal Barry

Sal Barry is the editor and webmaster of Puck Junk. He is a freelance hockey writer, college professor and terrible hockey player. Follow him on Twitter @puckjunk

9 thoughts on “Movie Review: Goon”

  1. I thought that this was a great movie! Seann William Scott was perfect for the role. I would say that it is the Slap Shot of my generation(yes, I have seen it, but not the sequel(s)). I was into it from beginning to end. Liev Schreiber was the most bad-ass I have ever seen him. It got a bit crazy in the last few minutes, but I enjoyed it thoroughly.

    1. Jason, you can skip the Slap Shot sequels. Slap Shot 2 was painful to watch. Slap Shot 3 *almost* works, but still disappoints.

  2. Haven’t seen it yet, but certainly plan on it. Much more after reading this. I have been hearing it often compared to Slap Shot, but over the last 15 years with 2 slap shot sequels and a handful of other hockey related movies (Sudden Death being an exception) I am starting to get tired of A) seeing crappy hockey movies that are supposed to be better than Slap Shot and B) lame attempts to duplicate Slap Shot and how special it was. I am even more happy I saved this one for my road trip out west in a little over a week!

    1. AJ, you will be happy when you finally get around to seeing Goon. There’s nary a dull moment.

      I think a lot of hockey movies are bad because the people involved don’t necessarily “get” hockey.

      One horrible hockey film to avoid at all costs is The Love Guru. I reviewed it here so that no other hockey fan tries to watch it. Here’s the review, if you are interested:

      http://puckjunk.com/2009/03/16/review-the-love-guru/

      1. Thanks for the heads up Sal. Never bothered seeing that one as the previews pretty much made me sick. Its sad because Mike Myers like any Canadian loves hockey and wanted to do a movie involving it.

        As for why there are so few good ones, I completely agree. I don’t think most Hollywood types really get why its such a great game. Likewise I can’t help but feel that hockey needs to become a bit of a fad in the states for us to get more movies involving the sport. Seems like many feel this is just a niche more than anything. Maybe the recent playoffs with country singers appearing at Nashville games and the Hollywood elite grabbing seats in LA might bring a bit of a renaissance forward for good or bad.

    1. Rob, I watched Goon a second time with my buddies last night. They all loved it, and I still found it hilarious after my second viewing. Going to try and watch it a 3rd time this week.

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