Surprisingly violent and often very funny, Goon is an underdog sporting tale with a difference, and featuring a career best performance from Seann William Scott, it’s well worth getting your skates on and heading out to see it on the big screen.
The man who is still chiefly known as Stifler, the shirt-chasing horndog from the ‘Pie’ series, is monosyllabic simpleton Doug Glatt. Coasting through life as a doorman, what he lacks in brains he clearly makes up for in brawn. Much to the chagrin of his middle-class Canadian family, Glatt finds his calling in life on the ice when his aptitude for teeth smashing and skull cracking wins him a huge following after he lends his dubious talents to the local hockey team.
Soon promoted to a larger, semi-pro team in Halifax, alongside the requisite display of ferocious fisticuffs, he’s tasked with looking after star player Xavier Laflamme (Marc-André Grondin) who has had his cockiness and talent knocked out of him following a particularly vicious clash with hockey rival and Glatt’s potential nemesis, Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber).
Coming across as a kind of ice Hulk, Glatt struggles to overcome resentment from Laflamme, who despises being babysat and is angered by his protector’s burgeoning star status (despite his obvious inability as a sportsman). In reality, Glatt’s role helps to strengthen the team, pushing them forward to the finals and yet another opportunity for further (and increasingly bloody) scuffles on the ice.
Scripted by regular Seth Rogan collaborator Evan Goldman and Judd Apatow bit-player Jay Baruchel (who has a small role as Glatt’s obnoxious and foul-mouthed hockey-obsessed best friend), many of the familiar beats associated with sports films are evident here, but rather refreshingly, the focus is shifted from the plight of the wannabe champ who triumphs over adversity, to the thug-like chump who is there the provide the spectators with the gladiatorial-like bloodlust they’ve paid to see. It isn’t much of a spoiler to say the focus during the climatic sequence on the ice revolves around a potential flight breaking out as opposed to Glatt’s team actually winning.
Goon actually shares more of a commonality with those character-based sporting flicks, coming across as a rowdier version of a Ron Shelton film rather than a comedic take on Rocky (even though the old pugilist could almost be a distant cousin to the similarly tough on the outside, soft in the centre Glatt). Helping to make that distinction is Scott who is really fantastic, giving a surprisingly nuanced performance and managing to win over the audience despite his thuggish behavior. Having noticeably beefed up for the role, he plays dumb incredibly well (not an easy thing to do) but there’s always a disturbed glimmer behind his eyes too, which lends an edgy, unpredictable side to his character.
Likewise, Schreiber (showing the same playful sense of menace and villainy which he brought to Wolverine) is a lot of fun here and proves to be more than a worthy adversary on the ice. Actress and potential love interest Alison Pill fares less successfully unfortunately, coming across as a little one-dimensional. It’s through no fault of the performer though, but lumbering her with a transparent script dilemma device of having a boyfriend feels weak compared with the other well-crafted characters on screen.
Goon is one of those films which manages to genuinely take you by surprise, offering a much more satisfying cinematic experience than anticipated, mainly due to strong writing, committed performances and an attempt to bring a little more personality to what could have been a much broader tale, given the material.