Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Movie Review: Goalie

Goalie *** / *****
Directed by: Adriana Maggs.
Written by: Adriana Maggs and Jane Maggs.
Starring: Mark O'Brien (Terry Sawchuk), Kevin Pollak (Jack Adams), Georgina Reilly (Pat Morey), Éric Bruneau (Marcel Pronovost), Steve Byers (Gordie Howe), Ted Atherton (Louis Sawchuk), Janine Theriault (Anne Sawchuk), Owen Maggs (Mitch Sawchuk), Matt Gordon (Tommy Ivan), Jonny Harris (Phil Sullivan). 
If you wanted to make a dark, serious film about hockey – something in the vein of Raging Bull or The Wrestler – Terry Sawchuk may well be the perfect candidate for that sort of treatment. One of the greatest goalies the game has ever seen, he played for 20 years in the NHL – amassing multiple Stanley Cups and Vezina trophies, but also seeing his body getting banged up and broken. He had a wife and many children – but also cheated on her constantly, and fathered a child in one of those dalliances. He struggled with depression and alcoholism for his entire life – a troubled childhood and family contributing to it – and he died tragically young – at 40 – after a freak accident during a fight with a teammate/roommate. Sawchuck’s life and times could be turned into a brilliant movie - and I can see several different ways of approaching the material that could result in that brilliance. Unfortunately for all of us, the film Goalie, about Sawchuk, tells his story in the most clichéd, stereotypical way possible – resulting in a movie that tries to basically cover his entire life, but most the time during his career, in just under two hours. This results in an episodic that never pauses long enough for much depth.
For the most part, Mark O’Brien is good in the lead role. It’s a little strange that the actor basically plays Sawchuk over a 20 years period, and other than some additional scars he builds up over time, his appearance never changes. Still, O’Brien is fine as Sawchuk – the hockey player whose competitive nature led him to be one of the best, but also led to his temper running out of control at times. He isn’t quite as good in the home scenes – mainly between him and his wife, Pat Morey (played by O’Brien’s real wife, Georgina Reilly) – but that’s basically because the movie repeats a similar scene again and again – with Sawchuk drinking turning into a rage, and Pat threatening to leave, but never quite doing so until very late in the movie. There is much to work with here – and Reilly is also hung out to dry here. The same can be said for pretty much every other character in the film – the film spends more time with Jack Adams (Kevin Pollak) than anyone else other than Sawchuk – but I’m not sure it quite knows what to make of him. Legendary hockey players like Gordie Howe show up as supporting characters, but don’t really do much. I did like the “interviews” with people who knew Sawchuk scattered throughout the film. These are old men, looking back at their life, and Sawchuk’s, with a mixture of nostalgia and regret. The film doesn’t want to glamorize hockey – at least not too much.
The film was directed by Adriana Maggs, and there is enough here to suggest that better, deeper movie that could have been. She doesn’t romanticize hockey, shows just how much of a business it is, how people like Adams manipulates people like Sawchuk to keep making money, keep winning games, the personal consequences be damned, The film doesn’t romanticize Sawchuk either – doesn’t show his depression or anger as a necessary part of his skill as a player – it just made him a dark, less likable character.
The problem is that the film has to cover so much ground that it never dives deep on anything. It skips across the surface of a life that deserves a deep dive. I imagine a film about the final year of Sawchuk’s life – the legendary goalie, reduced to a backup who barely plays, whose body has broken down, who is still depressed and an alcoholic, whose wife has just left him – ending with his death because of that fight. That is the kind of deep, dark hockey movie Goalie only hints at being. It could have been great. Instead, it’s mediocre – which is a shame.

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