1. I went to the 2008 NHL All-Star game in Atlanta. This is pretty funny because Atlanta no longer has a hockey team, and in fact has the distinction of being the only city to lose two NHL teams to other, colder environs. In the future, the NHL is giving us a third just for the hell of it, and we will lackadaisically giggle as we lose that one, too.
I remember a lot of things. The Hives opened the ceremonies, and then fell into a crack in the Atlanta sewage system, never to be heard from again. Ne-Yo played the afterparty, and earned respect points for attacking it like it was literally the last job he would ever have. I learned that you should never, ever try to drink with hockey players or retired hockey players, because people who try this will die.
One of those retired hockey players--an NHL guy who in 2008 still had a mullet and whose only nod to the past two decades was a fresh goatee--was talking about fighting.
"Oh, well, I'm not supposed to say this, but I fuckin' love it. One time in the minors I was going up against Tie Domi. He wanted to fight me for years. 'Go me, come on, go me let's go.'"
I nodded. "And?"
"We got into some kind of tussle. Tie's helmet is sideways. All across his face. He's blind, but he's asking through the earhole 'Aw, come on, the game's almost over, let's go. Please, come on, let's go. So we fought."
"How'd that go?"
"Oh, he's great. Really, really loves a good fight. He's a good dude."
2. That jarring "good dude" and "was begging to hit my skull with his fists" is the heart of 2012's Goon, which is undoubtedly the second greatest hockey film ever made, and one of the best films ever made about the real thrill of channeled violence in sport. Seann William Scott is the goon in question, a massive lug of a black sheep whose parents disapprove gently of his career in bouncing until he gets a minor league hockey contract based solely off his ability to beat the fucking hell out of hockey players who dare to rumble into the stands.
3. That beating starts with a fist to the skull--a crunching, clumsy, punch not unlike a football player's punch to the facemask--and finishes the way fights actually do, which is badly, and in lopsided, bloody fashion. A film that starts with blood splashing onto the ice as opera plays is just signalling from the start that this will be a film for those whose neurons start firing at double-time at the sight of a fight, but this isn't even stunt-coordinator violence: the fighting is brutal, erratic, loaded with gloriously cheap blood effects, and humming with the mayhem of actual hockey violence.
4. For the ADD-stricken: the first fight starts in the first minute of the film. A tooth hits the ice in the title sequence. The first "fuck" happens in the first five lines of the movie. Doug Glatt knocks out eight men in the first ten minutes of the film. By the five minute mark the film earns an R rating on profanity alone; by the ten minute mark, on violence; by the fifteen minute mark, a character is having sex on a pool table with a stripper and snorting coke off her back as a crew of bikers films the whole thing. It is not a filthy movie, because filthy movies acknowledge the existence of an opposed cleanliness. Goon is about people who could be no other way, and use no other term than "Greek fucking underground gay porn hard" in an inspirational speech.
5. It would all be jarring if it weren't so gleeful, and if it weren't anchored by Seann William Scott's turn as Glatt, a saintly moron archetype turned into something better than it should be by Scott's blind ferocity and, well, looking the part. Sean William Scott has always looked like a lobotomized, hyperactive lax bro, but with ten pounds of extra muscle, a perpetual half-beard/shaved head, he's softened and hardened all at once. When he 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.
6. The other bit of casting genius--and every bit of the cast is fucking perfect, right down to a cameo from real life nice guy enforcer Georges Laraque--is Liev Schreiber as Ross Rhea, a handlebar-mustachioed veteran goon on his way out of the game set squarely in the path of Glatt. Rhea sits in cold, dark diners at three in the morning drinking black coffee and smoking, brooding as the film plays horrendous highlights of his cheap shot career. He's Bob Probert channeled through Sabretooth. That's not a bad thing in the least, particularly with the well-manicured mullet and shitkicking Canadian tuxedo he wears throughout the film.
7. Also delightful: Eugene Levy plays an asshole, which is refreshing.
8. It does all work in the shadow of Slap Shot, and acknowledges as much with thick fog of profanity, bus scenes, and locker room chaos. (For lack of Hanson brothers, Goon substitutes a pill-poppin' goalie and a pair of Ukrainian pervert brothers, among others.) Goon may be better than Slap Shot--gaaaaaaaaasp--in one respect, though. Slap Shot is about playing the game despite the idea that he game might turn on you at any point and leave you abandoned, sold short, or outright marooned. It is honest, but at its center it is a bleak film about a bleak, bleak environment.
9. Goon is even bloodier than its cinematic forefather, and yet somehow sunnier. Glatt, like all enforcers, is there to bleed first, but it doesn't denigrate the sense of duty and fulfillment he gets out of his moment of violent glory. It's partly accurate to call it the bloodiest, most profane version of Forrest Gump-On-Ice imaginable. It would also be only partly accurate. The other half of the movie lives in that moment when the gloves come off and does something no other movie has really done: reveled in hockey's weirdly principled violence with humor, love, and affection.
10. It also pays homage to the rough men of the night like no other sports movie ever. If you ever loved an offensive lineman, or worshipped Charles Oakley or any of the other lumbering, silent bastards looming in the arena living between the lines of the rulebook, then watching Goon is the tribute you must pay, particularly because it gets close to them, wallows in their blood, and finds them not only human, but tender, fallible, and in the end loyal well past the limits of reason, or even self-interest.
11. In summary and borrowing a line from the film: I would sign this movie's dick, and do so twice, once for each love story in the film: once for the woman Glatt doggedly pursues through the movie in a pleasant surprise of a plot line, and the other with hockey itself, right down to the tooth bouncing off the ice in the final shot.