Directed by Michael Dowse.
Starring Sean William Scott, Jay Baruchel, Alison Pill, Liev Schreiber, Kim Coates and Eugene Levy.
A bouncer undergoes a change of career to become the star enforcer of an underachieving ice hockey team.
Let’s get the Rocky reference out of the way to begin with. It’s a sports film, so of course Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is an underdog. Let’s not kid ourselves calling him ‘differently intelligent’, this man is a doofus of the first order. Mr Robert Balboa practically ranks as an Oxbridge candidate in comparison. Frankly, comparisons are unfair and irrelevant in this case. Goon isn’t shooting for the stars; it’s diving for the gutter and splashing around down there so joyfully you can’t help but develop a kind of admiration for it.
We’ll stick with the word ‘doofus’ for Doug. It fits his particular mindset beautifully. The man’s an idiot built like a brick shithouse – but he has no pretensions to being anything else. He’s been working security duty for his local bar, and he’s not terribly proud of it. Neither are his wonderfully Jewish parents (Eugene Levy and Ellen David), who would dearly have loved to have another doctor son. Like Doug’s brother Ira. Except not gay like Ira.
Doug unwinds watching a nice, relaxing, brutal game of minor league ice hockey with Ryan, his best friend (Jay Baruchel). Ryan is never one to keep his thoughts to himself, and good god does he have a lot of thoughts. Many of them about cock. He aims one too many cock jokes at a hockey player in the penalty box and very nearly gets the beating he so richly deserves. Lucky for Ryan (and the story), Doug steps in and headbutts the player so hard the man’s helmet cracks in half.
An offer to join the local team as an enforcer follows. He impresses the coach with his natural instinct for brute force, and he’s transferred to the semi-pro league. Doug is soon swept up into the team dynamic, dedicated to ‘protecting’ his team, even if they can’t win a match to save their lives. It works for us too; an audience who have never so much as glanced at an ice hockey match their whole lives soon grasp the fundamentals of the game, so far as they’re important to the story.
Goon isn’t very different at all to NHL ice hockey. Both of them are really all about the fights. We don’t see authorised bare knuckle fighting this side of the pond (it’s illegal), but in America the fisticuffs is part and parcel of the whole appeal of the game. Coach Hortense (Kim Coates) offers a more…concise definition to his team: “This. Is not. Fucking. BASEBALL.”
This film lures you into the hockey bloodlust in spite of yourself. After all, on an academic level, most of us would be with Eugene Levy, warning Doug of the long-term effects involved in repeated blows to the head. To director Michael Dowse’s credit, these are very believable blows. You can practically hear the teeth cracking in their mouths when Glatt jabs them in the jaw. Seriously, there are so many punches to the face through the course of this hockey season, you wonder how it is that the main supporting character isn’t a dentist.
So we buy the violence; the cracked teeth, the blood on the ice, that all feels real and we like some things to feel real in comedy. But why do we like Doug ‘The Thug’ Glatt? Again, Eugene ‘Voice of Reason’ Levy points out that ‘Thug’ isn’t the greatest nickname to have. Doug is essentially beating people up for a living, but because it’s in a sporting context, this is deemed exciting and satisfying. That can’t be his appeal. Liev Schrieber’s character does the same thing, and he’s a professional bastard, no question about it.
Perhaps it’s because we see Doug take just as much as he dishes out. You don’t grow up to own a skull that cracks a guy’s knuckles without taking your fair share of beatings. He doesn’t moan or sob about going home with a black eye or two at the end of a game. His team-mate LaFlamme (Marc-André Grondin) does, but he’s something of a whining nancy all the way through. Doug has a little more dignity. Sometimes. When he’s not trying to play hockey.
Eva (Alison Pill) has a lot to do with this. Finally snagging a proper supporting role after scene-stealing stints in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Midnight in Paris, Pill takes Eva to very interesting places. Eva already has a boyfriend, but she falls for the big doofus so quickly it frightens her. It kills her to mess him around, but she is genuinely torn. You’ve seen films before, you know who she’ll choose. It’s just that Pill does such an excellent job convincing us we’re wrong.
Goon isn’t the best it could be. Jay Baruchel and Evan Goldberg have written a fairly solid script, true. What is also true is that Baruchel couldn’t resist writing himself an entirely superfluous role, amounting to little more than a cheerleader with Tourette’s. These writers were conscientious enough not to shoehorn in a forgiveness n’ hugs scene with Doug’s parents. They gave Liev Schreiber a believable aging hard man character. So why leave us in a cinema with a character like Ryan for 90 minutes?
Fortunately enough, Ryan all but disappears by the second act. Seann William Scott and Alison Pill take over as the far more convincing couple. Maybe it’s the massive size difference, maybe Pill just epitomises the kind of girl who can’t resist a 3-day beard, but you can’t knock these two onscreen together.
There’s a touching scene about 40 minutes in, as Eva tells Doug there’s no chance for them to be together, where Dowse tries something fairly brave. He pulls out Puccini’s ‘Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep)’. This could have been bombastic or overblown (take your pick); it’s not exactly a subtle sort of aria. Strangely though, it feels right. It hits us where it hurts for the right reasons, not for cheap ironic giggles, but for sincere, well-earned pathos. An unexpected, but very welcome feeling in the middle of a hockey fight comedy. More surprises like this, please.
Simon Moore is a budding screenwriter, passionate about films both current and classic. He has a strong comedy leaning with an inexplicable affection for 80s montages and movies that you can’t quite work out on the first viewing.