' ' Cinema Romantico: Some Drivel On...Goon

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

Some Drivel On...Goon

Michael Dowse’s 2012 comedy “Goon,” about a hockey enforcer monikered Doug “The Thug” Glatt (Seann William Scott), begins with an overture of violence, blood splattering the ice, quickly followed by a bloody tooth, as opera music plays. It’s not so much foreshadowing as a warning. This is a violent movie. It has four fights in the first ten minutes, each one more intense than the last, and though it relents a little from that rapid-fire bloody knuckle pace, it doesn’t by much. If there is strategy to hockey, “Goon” has no use for it, and neither does the minor league hockey coach (Kim Coates) in “Goon.” Far from the Disneyfied realm of “Miracle,” where even the most malicious tactics of miracle-working coach Herb Brooks were dressed up with inspirational garb, “Goon” proves more like the preeminent hockey movie forefather “Slap Shot” (1977), though less satirical if no less cutting, portraying its violence and the embrace of it so earnestly that it becomes revelatory. 

It was pure kismet that I happened to watch “Goon” for the first time in a dozen years when I did, which was as the last movie I saw before the episode of “Ted Lasso” in which, without spoiling too much, an English Premier League player goes into the stands to fight a fan. Like most anything in that Apple TV+ dramedy, this fight, triggered by an abhorrent slur, was fodder for a Learning Experience. In “Goon,” on the other hand, when Doug defends he and his best friend Pat (Jay Baruchel) against a hockey player who enters the stands, the moment is nothing less than his call to adventure in which pummeling a man becomes his chance to leave the ordinary world behind, recruited in spite of his negligible skating ability or hockey talent to be enforcer for a minor league hockey team and rough up anyone who gets in the best player’s (Marc-André Grondin) way, carving out an identity for himself and earning a measure of fame along the way.

That this works, that we are invested in Doug rather than repulsed by him a la his father (Eugene Levy), is testament to Scott, so gleefully unlikable in the “American Pie” movies, so lovable here. Spencer Hall, our preeminent modern-day college football scribe, clocked Scott’s turn so perfectly I feel compelled to just let him take over: “When (Scott) flexes up off the bench to wait outside the penalty box for a fight, he is a pit bull waiting at the door for a burglar. The rest of the time he’s a dog lounging on the sofa.” Doug has a girlfriend played by Allison Pill, but even if his actions toward her are gallant, she exists merely as a figurative figment of the male hockey-addled imagination, while Pat mostly functions as comic relief. No, Doug’s real soulmate is his fellow Goon, the past-his-prime Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schrieber), soulfully embodying their role as mere modern gladiators. They hardly have any scenes together, existing as a kind of hockeyland Vincent Hanna and Neil McCauley, right down to their climactic heart-to-heart at an all-night diner and giving way to a showdown on the ice that does not dissect nor even skewer violence, instead surrendering to its bloody, brutal lull entirely. 

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