Tag Archives: violence

Blood on the Ice: Goon, violence & hockey cinema

As a young man in a small town in the north of England, entertainment was hard to come by in the late 80s and early 90s. My particular town did boast a two screen cinema (now an Australian theme pub) but in our pre-pub/club days, there really was only one social option: the local ice-rink. This pigeon-infested structure was of interest to local youth largely on the basis of the skate discos held there each weekend (think ‘50s hops, but colder). However, of far more interest to me were the rink’s resident stars: the most successful British ice hockey team of the day, the legendary Durham Wasps.

As today, the North East was a hotbed of football, with my town split – sometimes violently – between two local teams. A uniting sight, however, were the numerous, colourful Michelin Man-sized jackets worn around town by fans of the hockey team. I was a regular, shivering in the stands as a coalition of local boys and Canadian imports took to the ice in my name. This was a fast game, thrillingly dangerous, as blades sent sleet into the air, sticks clattered into midriffs, and pucks and bodies alike clattered plexiglass partitions.

Goals were met with cheers and chants by a surprisingly female-heavy crowd (particularly when compared to the aforementioned football), but it was a far more sinister element of the game which really worked the fans into frenzy: the fighting. On a ridiculously regular basis, members of both teams would remove various gloves and helmets and begin a punch up of the type that would be familiar yet frowned upon in the taxi queue not 200 yards away.

This violence wouldn’t be tolerated in any other team sport yet even to a sensitive youth like myself, its prevalence was intrinsic to the essence of the sport. I recall a local news report on one game concluding, “Eventually, a game of hockey broke out”. It was with all this in mind that I sat down to watch Canadian hockey comedy, Goon.


Written by Seth Rogen collaborator Evan Goldberg in conjunction with one of the film’s stars Jay Baruchel, Goon approaches the inherent violence of the sport in a manner not seen since 1977’s Slap Shot and with as much brutal relish as the most bloodthirsty boxing movie. That the film is in the hands of Michael Dowse of Take Me Home Tonight and It’s All Gone Pete Tong ‘renown’ did not fill me with confidence; nor did the fact that the lead is played by Stifler himself, Seann William Scott. However, Goon is a movie which surprises not only in its violence, but in its successful comedy and central performances.

A “goon”, as any fule kno, is a hired thug, and the word is commonly used in Canadian hockey to describe a player whose role is to protect his team mates, rather than to contribute to the general play. In Goon, Ross Rhea (Liev Schreiber) is the ultimate example of such a player; an ageing hard man who prides himself on his ability to physically overpower any opponent, and whose assault on Halifax Highlanders’ flair player Xavier LaFlamme (Marc-Andre Grondin) has left the French-Canadian terrified, out-of-form and spiralling into a world of drugs, loose women and prima donna behaviour.

Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) becomes a local hero in Goon

Into this uber-masculine world enters our hero Doug Glatt (Scott), son of an intellectual Jewish family, whose parents and brother are doctors with inflated expectations of their boy. Doug is an amiable idiot; slow, yet self-aware enough to understand that he cannot match his parents’ academic demands. Taken to a minor league hockey game by his best friend Pat (Baruchel), Doug earns notoriety and praise when violently defending Pat in a scuffle with an opposition player. This street fighting performance attracts the attention of the team coach and the offer of a contract. Soon Doug is on the other side of the glass, as his inability to skate or play hockey fails to dissuade the Highlanders from picking him as the ideal on-ice bodyguard for the out-of-sorts LaFlamme.

Scott brings a surprising amount of heart to the character of Doug, whose gentle naivety and innate loyalty includes a touching belief in his teammates and willingness to suffer in their name. When he meets hockey fan Eva (Alison Pill), it transpires that this decency and acceptance of physical and emotional pain also applies to romance. Even in the face of LaFlamme’s abuse, Eva’s unavailability and his parents’ disapproval, Doug’s decency away from the ice is in stark contrast to his brutality on it.

Make no mistake; this is a film which glories in violence. Just as in my days watching hockey in the local rink, the fans see the confrontation between their boys and the opposition as gladiatorial. With Eva (who admits her attraction to such primal physicality) and Pat cheering him on, Doug becomes the crowd’s hero, as he drops a series of rivals, happily waving his way towards the sin bin. The fight scenes are shot in close-up, every punch reverberating with the sound of slapped meat and claret colouring the ice below. That we are able to look beyond this blood-letting to enjoy the film’s occasional belly laughs and relate to Doug’s vulnerability is either a testament to Scott’s performance, or a damning indictment of our society’s numbness. You decide.

Of course, Doug’s path is inevitably leading to a climactic stand-off with Schreiber’s Rhea, though even their initial encounter betrays the mutual respect of gladiators; the suggestion being that these ‘goons’ are a vital part of the sport, willingly sacrificing themselves in the name of glory and the team ethic. It is an odd strength of the film that such mindless violence can seem to contain an element of heroism.


While the origins of Goon lie in a book called Goon: The True Story of an Unlikely Journey into a Minor Hockey League which detailed the career of boxer turned ice warrior Doug Smith, another clear influence is the 2004 Canadian documentary Les ChiefsLes Chiefs follows the fortunes of five players with the Laval Chiefs, a semi-professional hockey team in Canada, including Mike Bajumy, whose brother produced the film. Bajumy, like Doug Glatt, came from an educated family (his parents were also doctors), but similarly rejected academia for the thrill of the minor leagues, much to the disapproval of his mother. Directed by Jason Gileno, the documentary details the squalid living conditions of the players and the violence of the game itself, while also revealing the blood lust of the Chiefs’ rabid fans.

The clearest link in Les Chiefs with the characters of Goon is found in the substantial shape of Tim Leveque and Dominic “The Giant” Forcier. Leveque joins the Chiefs mid-season to initial suspicion from his new team mates, but wins their respect by thrice defeating 6’7” Forcier in fights and eventually helping the team to the championship. This rivalry and Leveque’s ability to win respect through violence has much in common with Doug Blatt’s rise to prominence with the Halifax Highlanders and his eventual face off with Ross Rhea.

Of course, it would be foolish to consider Goon without placing it in the light of perhaps the best hockey film of all (Mighty Ducks fans, save your ire for the comments section), George Roy Hill’s aforementioned Slap Shot. Another comic-violent exploration of a struggling minor league team, it benefits from the presence of Paul Newman in the lead role and its refreshingly foul-mouthed collection of characters.

Slap Shot's terrifying Hanson brothers

The fictional Charlestown Chiefs, led by veteran player/coach Reggie Dunlop (Newman) are perennial losers who find their very existence under threat thanks to the closure of the local factory, the town’s major employer.  In an attempt to carry the morale-sapped team through to the end of the season, Dunlop resorts to manipulation, lies (suggesting that a mystery buyer may be about to transfer the Chiefs to sunny Florida) and an extreme change of tactics following the arrival of the Hanson brothers, a trio as dense as their jam jar glasses.

The Hansons are real ‘enforcers’, launching into violence at the slightest provocation, starting fights before the game has even begun and, at one point, even climbing into the stands to attack opposition fans. Suddenly, the team begin to win, the crowds return and Dunlop realises that this new ultra-violence may be the key to success. On the whole, his players revel in this new tactic, one even changing his name to the physically inappropriate ‘Killer’, but opposition fans are outraged (“GOONS GO HOME”, reads one banner) and Dunlop finds a moral opponent in his talented, college educated top scorer Ned Braden who insists, “I’m not gonna goon it up for you”.

Off the ice, many of the themes of Goon are present in Slap Shot, as the hockey players are presented not as elite sportsmen, but rather as hard-drinking, womanising wash-ups, caught in a spiral of small-town living, loneliness and divorce. Just as Goon’s Pat seems to belch obscenities with every breath, Dunlop is similarly profane (Newman admitted that the character spilled over into his own life and vocabulary) while the women who are drawn to hockey and to those who play it are portrayed as lonely alcoholics, dabbling in lesbianism and enjoying a love/hate relationship with the routine violence. This is far from the perecived glamorous world of professional sport.

Increasingly, Dunlop is corrupted by the violence he finds himself revelling in; one key scene sees him taunt an opposition goaltender until he provokes an attack. Grinning on the ice he, like Glatt, happily takes a beating on behalf of the team. This corruption perhaps reaches its apogee when Dunlop places a bounty on the head of an opposition player. He has lost touch with the game that has been his life and hockey, in both his eyes and those of most of the Chiefs’ players and fans, has become more about gore than goals.

Ultimately, all three films reveal very similar truths about the underside of minor league hockey and of the corruption of violence, though different conclusions are drawn. While Doug’s defining clash with Rhea provides the redemptive climax of Goon, Slap Shot relies on Reg’s realisation that winning by any means possible is a betrayal of his ideals. Violence is a part of hockey, but it is a sideshow, and should not be allowed to eclipse what is in itself a fast, skilful and exciting sport. Goon is a lot of fun, but not for the squeamish and certainly not for the sporting idealist.

Goon is released in cinemas on Friday January 6th via Entertainment One.

“It’s a warzone here” – a look at The Interrupters, and interview with Ameena Matthews

The Interrupters: (l-r) Ameena Matthews, Cobe Williams, Eddie Bocanegra

“It’s a warzone here,” is a phrase you keep hearing again and again in The Interrupters, a powerful and somewhat distressing documentary about the senseless violence in America’s inner cities and about CeaseFire, an organisation attempting to cure this sickness, one individual at a time.

The film was produced by Steve James, director of 1994 college basketball video-diary Hoop Dreams, in collaboration with author Alex Kotlowitz, whose New York Times article put James on the scent of CeaseFire and its brave ‘violence interrupters’ operating on the front lines.

There were 453 murders in the city of Chicago in 2009. The city is drawn along imaginary colour lines, and on the South Side, where The Interrupters was filmed, it’s not uncommon for 12 and 13 year olds to walk around with bullet-proof vests under their clothes. Many students here are afraid to go to school where playground confrontations often threaten to degenerate into deadly battles.

It was in one such after-school fight that Derrion Albert, a student at Fenger Academy High School, lost his life. Clumped around the head with a piece of railroad track when he was caught in the middle of a fight between rival gangs, the honours student died on the spot.

The incident was caught on a mobile phone, and the video of Derrion’s death spread like wildfire across the national TV networks in 2009, prompting a bout of national soul searching. President Barack Obama sent Attorney General Eric Holder and Education Secretary Arne Duncan to Chicago to attempt to formulate some response.

The troubled Caprysha Anderson

But on the ground in Chicago, it’s CeaseFire that mobilises its troops and dispatches Ameena Matthews to console Derrion Albert’s mother. Over the course of a year, The Interrupters follows Ameena and two other interrupters, Eddie Bocanegra and Cobe Williams, as they operate in the trenches of Englewood, Chicago.

When situations in the community threaten to blow over into violence, for instance immediately after a murder when there is a high risk of retaliation, the violence interrupters will step in and defuse the situation, encouraging the aggrieved parties to resolve the issue through dialogue, not violence. The philosophy behind CeaseFire is that patterns of violence can be disrupted by approaching them as you would an epidemic – going after the most infected, and stopping the infection at its source.

So you find the violence interrupters, often with little regard for their own safety, intervening in gang disagreements, hectoring the teenage mourners at the funeral of another dead friend, helping offenders reintegrate once they’re released from jail or just performing acts of kindness for the most fragile teens, like Caprysha Anderson who is in and out of Juvenile Detention.

The success of the CeaseFire programme, which registers a 50% drop in murders in some areas, can be attributed to the fact that its violence interrupters all come from the community, and often have first-hand experience of the activities they’re trying to put a halt to.  Ameena, who breezes through tight situations like some Mother Theresa of the South Side, is in fact the daughter of Jeff Fort, one of the city’s most infamous gang leaders and was once herself caught up in the same tricking she now helps to put a stop to.

Critics of the CeaseFire organisation argue that it’s just a Band Aid, treating the symptom without treating with the cause  – those intractable problems like unemployment, poor education, and drug trafficking – but its defendants argue that by stopping the violence you open the pathway for a neighbourhood to heal, for the schools to get better, for the kids to improve their outlooks and for businesses to want to open in the community.

In his book Dreams for My Father, Obama remembered his own time as a community organiser on the South Side of Chicago, in the Altgeld Gardens public housing project where he helped provide summer jobs, instigated building repairs and removed asbestos from apartments. “Change won’t come from the top,” he notes. “Change will come from a mobilized grass roots.”

The Interrupters shows that change is taking effect unquestionably in small but steady steps.

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Interrupter Ameena Matthews

We spoke to Ameena Matthews, one of the stars of the film, over the phone from Chicago.

Watching you in action, the way you intervene in situations, the way you provide support to really fragile subjects, is awe-inspiring.

I’m very honoured to have that gift. Some people wish they could sing, some people wish they could dance, I just want to be able to be effective and help people change their lives. That’s my goal, that’s my purpose.

Can you tell us the latest on Caprysha who is going through a very difficult time in the film?

Caprysha is a hot mess still. She’s locked up still and she’s in the process of waiting to get paroled and look for housing, because she’ll be 21 soon and it’s no more Juvenile Detention Center for her – she’ll go into Illinois Department of Corrections women facility. But she’s doing good. I spoke to her last week and before the weather gets bad I’ll ride up there to where she is.

How do know where to draw the line with how far you get involved with these young people’s lives?

In dealing with people’s lives, and being responsible for their lives, it’s not like the shut-off 9-5 type of thing. So really they allow me to know what my boundaries are. Like with Caprysha, she wasn’t ready to make a decision to change her life. She had another run in her. She wanted to do it her way and see if it would work. So she let me know that.  There’s no  handbook on how to be a productive member of society. It’s just doing the right things for the right reasons, and if you’re still not doing that after our engagement, that’s cut off for me. I’m not going to harbour a fugitive. I’m not going to aid and abet illegal behaviour. So they let me know what they need – whether it’s just a kind word, or to get something to eat. Just taking baby steps. And then they might go ‘Now I’m ready to get my GED,’ or ‘Now I’m ready to visit my mom’ or ‘I’m ready to go make amends to people that I harmed in the midst of the drama that I caused’.

How do you deal with all the pain?

It’s hard to deal with all the pain, but I come from that background so I can i.d. with it. We, as a people, can write our own ending to the book. It’s going to take a miracle and blessings upon our people to get them to understand to change their mindset that violence is not a good thing. So you take it one day at a time, one youth at a time, or sometimes in my case I have five or six I’m juggling at one time.  If I can get somebody to put their guns down, and don’t shoot anybody, we can deal with the underlying issues, we really can. But if you shoot somebody and catch a murder, I can’t really help you.

Is the government doing enough?

I’m not a political person. I’ve just got to do my part and hopefully the government will do the right thing to get people education, food, housing. I don’t like to do the political type conversation about what the government is and is not doing. As a whole country, we can always do more. But people know from their hearts what the right thing is. To have kids not able to go to school, and not have proper health care, guns being dropped in our communities… people know the difference between right and wrong, whether that’s the government, the school board, or my neighbour.

With CeaseFire, is it the case that it’s the community that’s best equipped to solve its own problems?

We as a black people have been so abused all the way back from slavery and there are issues we haven’t dealt with, unresolved emotions, and it’s always a consistent burden put on our community.  And yes, we do have to fix our own problems, however some of our problems are not problems that we created.

Contributor Jez Smadja is the editor of arts and culture webzine Shook, which can be followed on Twitter @SHOOKmag. The Interrupters is out now on DVD and iTunes via Dogwoof.

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The Sean Bean Death Reel

Moving, elegiac, graceful: yes, it’s the Sean Bean Death Reel, courtesy of the ever-excellent Harry Hanrahan (or hh1edits, if you’d like to visit his YouTube page). Obviously, the vid contains plenty of fairly large plot spoilers and an abundance of gratuitous, anti-Yorkshireman violence. Bean dies 21 times here, which got me wondering: can you think of any other actors who have died more on-screen? Post your thoughts below.