Humans will always raise the stakes and push their bodies to the limits to succeed. Darren Aronofsky has certainly explored this theme with Black Swan and The Wrestler, but Goon takes it a tad further and poses additional questions regarding non-players filling in roles not to necessarily play the game, but to act as a brick wall that punches back. This independent Canadian film balances violence and love to examine how far humans will go to achieve success and assimilate into new communities.
Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) is quite the gentle giant. He is a bouncer at night, a stark contrast to his father (Eugene Levy) and his gay brother, both medical doctors. But he is still the nice Jewish boy that only uses acts of aggression out of necessity, especially when working as a bouncer at bars. His best friend Pat (Jay Baruchel) is a huge fan of the local minor league hockey team and invites Doug to a game. After a player from the opposing team climbs out of the penalty box to confront the crowd, Doug hands the player an unfettered ass kicking. Doug is hired to play for the team to act not exactly as a player, but as the muscle for the team. He is quickly traded to the Halifax Highlanders where he is dropped into a dysfunctional team that continues to struggle with confidence during an extended losing streak.
Goon lands in American theaters coinciding with the NFL scandal involving the New Orleans Saints' "bounty" program for injuring opponents and the similarities are striking. Doug is called on to the ice only to knock players out of the game and keep Highlander star Xavier Laflamme (Marc-Andre Grondin) from suffering more massive hits like the one from years prior, delivered by the intimidating Ross "The Boss" Rhea (Liev Schreiber). The film portrays hockey as less of a team sport flinging pucks into nets and more of a UFC match on ice. Doug is slowly learning to master ice skating, but in the meantime, he knocks players out with ease. Doug is not a hockey player, he is a goon, paid to provide vigilante enforcement.
Doug not only provides the pain, he can take it. He is able to absorb an intense amount of pain, and the images of violence in the film are never subdued for easier consumption. The film includes a fair amount of non-gratuitous blood splatter in the film that can make even the most seasoned horror fanatic squirm. There is a certain expectation of violence in hockey, and Goon specifically focuses on that violence. Fights take center stage and the only consequences are a few cuts, bruises, and a five minute interment in the penalty box. The film is commenting on the phenomenon of placing violence on a pedestal, similar to that of auto racing fans who look forward to massive collisions. It is a perverse enjoyment of what is supposed to be an honorable team sport.
When Doug meets Eva (Alison Pill), she is taken by him because she is attracted to cheating on her boyfriend with assholes. She assumes that Doug matches the stereotypical hockey stereotype of a brawling buffoon that can skate on ice. When Doug provides her with unconditional affection, a product of his upbringing from a devoted Jewish family, she is taken back. The theme of playing into stereotypes is a major theme in the film and with the casting choices. If anyone can kick their the stereotype of their previous performances it is Seann William Scott. His Stiffler character from the American Pie franchise has been quashed multiple times including Cop Out, and his performance in Goon is refreshing. Baruchel takes on a testosterone-driven alpha male narcissism that is only rivaled by the other hockey players, a contrast to his bumbling love-shy roles of the past.
Goon does an excellent job balancing the darker themes and comedy with a relevance to the changing tides of physical teams sports. Just as Moneyball explored an economic and statistical method of acquiring players to build a play-off worthy team, Goon examines how teams hire players not to play, but to fill another essential role. It raises questions about the validity of the sport; are we playing a game or casting roles to compete in an ever-evolving meta sport?