Can we talk about Seann William Scott for just a moment? I think he's sorely underrated. That's probably the case because his two most famous roles -- Stifler in the American Pie movies and Chester Greenburg in Dude, Where's My Car -- are so unserious.
Now, I'm not going to pretend that Scott is the second coming of Woody Allen. But to cast aside Stifler and Chester Greenburg because they're just so silly, so ... stupid, seems unfair too. Truth is, since those breakout roles Scott has branched out ever so gradually -- showing the type of comedic chops that merit at least a little bit of serious attention. It's hard to forget his cameo as the animal trainer in Old School. He was terrific opposite Paul Rudd in Role Models, one of the most underrated comedies of the last five years. In Goon, Scott shows the type of range that you wouldn't expect if you stopped paying attention to him after the umpteenth American Pie film.
Superficially this seems like another classic Scott role. Starring in Goon as Doug Glatt, Scott is, on the surface, just another twist on the long line of meatheads he has played on screen -- a hockey enforcer who works his way up the minor-league ladder despite a serious deficiency in the skating department thanks to his ability to throw a punch.
Goon isn't just Stifler on skates, though, and it's readily apparent if you take the time to actually read beyond the description on the back of the DVD case. Glatt is sensitive and kind, if not a little slow, and he desperately wants to belong -- a byproduct of his black sheep status in his family (his father and brother are doctors, while he is a bouncer at a Boston bar who graduates to doing roughly the same thing on the ice).
He is capable of brutal violence, yes, but he unleashes it only when a friend or potential friend is threatened. Indeed, that's how Glatt earns entree into the hockey rink, commanding the attention of the local hockey coach when he defends best friend Ryan, played by Jay Baruchel (who also co-wrote the film), as a brawl spills over into the stands. And it's a role he keeps on playing all the way to Nova Scotia, where he's tasked with protecting fallen star Xavier Laflamme, whose career was derailed by a vicious hit from veteran enforcer Ross Rhea, who is played by Liev Schreiber.
The surly Laflamme, who is using drugs and sex to cope with his unwelcome detour to the minor leagues, is not accepting of Doug's protection, but he manages to earn the admiration and respect of the rest of the Halifax Highlanders and to find a love interest, Alison Pill's Eva, along the way.
Scott brings a haunting quality to Glatt. His courtship of Eva is innocent, especially because she is already in a relationship. Doug himself is desperate for acceptance of any kind, revealing in a dinner conversation with his disappointed parents that he just wants to be good at something and that he finally feels like he has found that something on the ice. He is genuine and decent. And then he gets on the ice and he is brutish and incredibly savage.
It's a remarkable contrast -- one so stark that it helps Goon straddle the tragedy/comedy line with acrobatic aplomb. It's also quite a pleasant surprise. Goon's setting -- minor league hockey -- certainly conjures up images of Paul Newman in the 1977 classic Slap Shot, but viewers will find something totally different at the end. Though the window dressing is the same for both films, Goon, beneath the violence and humor, offers a sweeter, uncynical examination of basic human needs -- feeling valued and accepted by others.
Slap Shot is miles better, of course. Its laughs resonate much louder, even 35 years after it was made. But the two films aren't really meant to be compared; they are each charming in their own way. Thanks to Scott and a surprisingly good supporting cast (kudos especially to Pill and Schreiber), Goon takes you somewhere else altogether from Slap Shot, and it's a pretty pleasant journey all in all.