Hello Destroyer *** ½ / *****
Directed by: Kevan Funk
Written by: Kevan Funk.
Starring: Jared Abrahamson (Tyson Burr), Kurt Max Runte (Coach Dale Milbury), Ian Tracey (Coach Aaron Weller), Joe Buffalo (Eric), Sara Canning (Wendy Davis), Ben Cotton (Bill Davis), Paul McGillion (Ron Burr).
From a young age, when you play hockey, you are taught the “tight way” and the “wrong way” to play the sport. Hockey is an inherently violent game, and in Canada, you are expected to play the game tough – physical, and yet not go so far as to hurt your opponent. There is a fine line between a clean hit and a dirty one – and coaches want you just on this side of that line. Hello Destroyer is a hockey film unlike any other I have seen – it is about a play who crosses that line, barely, and how he is essentially hung out to dry because of it. It is mainly a quiet, introspective film – there are lots of long, unbroken shots, observing the main character. The film is deliberately paced – perhaps too much for its own good – but it’s still a fine debut from writer/director Kevan Funk.
The film starts Jared Abrahamson as Tyson Burr, a young man who has moved away from home to play for the Prince George Warriors (I assume this is a Junior A type league – a development league for teenagers, although the film never says what it is). He is a rookie – who as the film begins, endures what is essentially harmless hazing – the team holds the rookies down and shave their heads. Their coach (Kurt Max Runte) drills into the teams head the need to be tough, the need to dig in along the boards, not be pushed around, defend “our house” – etc. In the intermission before the hit that will change Tyson’s life, he lays into his team – screams at them for playing soft and the need to step up. Tyson does, and the result is catastrophic for his opponent – who ends up lying motionless on the ice, and will never be the same again.
Funk does something interesting with that hit though – he kind of obscures it in the way he films. The hockey scenes in general – all of which are in the first 30 minutes or so – are often done in close-up, as if trying to capture the chaos on the ice from Tyson’s point-of-view. What we see of that hit is clearly that it is a hit-from-behind – a no-no to be sure – but it doesn’t look particularly violent, or particularly brutal. It is the type of play that happens in pretty much every hockey game with contact – often more than once. It’s just that most of the time, no injury is the result of the hit – and this time, there way. Hockey commentators and fans always like to talk about integrity of the game and the toughness of it – but as soon as something bad happens, we draw the line, point the finger at the person who crossed it, call it “not a hockey play” – and place the blame squarely on them, and exonerate everyone else. Hello Destroyer doesn’t quite come out and say that’s wrong – it doesn’t excuse Tyson’s hit, but it certainly does look at those who surround Tyson, who are so quick to preach one thing, and then throw him under the bus the second he gets into trouble.
Yet the hockey scenes in Hello Destroyer are only a part of the film. Much of the film looks at Tyson’s life outside of hockey – “suspended indefinitely” from his team (Tyson doesn’t realize that means forever – and no one thinks enough of him to tell him), he goes back home to his small town, with his emotionally distant father and a nearly silent mother. He picks up shifts at the slaughter house, and spends other times stripping an old family property before it’s to be torn down. He doesn’t specifically say it, but hockey was his way out – his way to not become this. Now, with that no longer an option, what other choices does he have open to him? He’s stuck, and when he realizes that, the results aren’t good.
Abrahamson delivers a fine performance – one that is mostly silent. There is something specifically Canadian about his stoicism here – the way he doesn’t want to complain, doesn’t want to show his emotions. You’re taught that in hockey as well – you play through the pain, you deal with it. Hockey players are the toughest athletes in the world, we like to say, and they don’t whine.