The first movie of the day and likely the best I would see. This film is about the hockey enforcers of the 80’s NHL and in particular about Chris Nilan who played this role for the Montreal Canadiens. This is a great movie and you don’t need to be a hockey fan to enjoy it although if you of my generation and remember the Bruins and the Broad Street Bullies you will get a lot out of it. Although the film centres on the career of Chris Nilan and long interviews with him and images of his career, it also looks at and interviews many of his fellow goons and enforcers. Marty McSorley, Bob Probert, and Donald Brashear feature prominently. One is retired, one is dead and one is playing out his career in the minor leagues and is dabbling in mixed martial arts. If you have seen the movie The Wrestler you will understand the depressing truth. Nilan himself who is the centre of the story is in his 50’s now and still battles addiction and injury. The sad thing is that they were required to fight, to defend the skill players on their teams but themselves often had nothing in the way of education or skill themselves to fall back on once they retired or were too injured to continue to play. The movie pulls no punches so to speak. I highly recommend it. The nice thing was that Chris Nilan was there for the Q and A and received a standing ovation for his simply eloquence and his dedication to the game and his loyalty to the Habs and his team mates. His description of his struggles after retirement is powerful and deeply emotional. For his openness he deserved the applause he got.
Today was special I have to admit. I managed to see three movies (not four as promised but….), all good and two about hockey. As most readers will be aware this summer has been a bad one for hockey and particularly for players who took on the role of enforcer for their teams. Three enforcers have died and most recently we saw the loss of an entire team in a plane crash. So it was somewhat sadly serendipitous that TIFF has three movies about hockey and two in particular about enforcers. I suspect many of you will not be enamoured of the enforcers in the league and the role they play or of a league that clearly promotes fighting and makes the enforcer such a key element and I share much of that perspective. However, you should see these movies to gain a full understanding of the role of the enforcer and the impact playing that role has on the individuals. The focus will then turn away from the individuals and their acts to the real villains – Gary Bettman and his management team that seem to feel it is alright to throw away the lives of these men. So on to the reviews.