‘Victor Walk’: Dances With Films Review
Former NHL star Theo Fleury hits the road, on foot, to raise awareness about childhood sexual abuse.
Winner of an Olympic gold medal and professional hockey’s Stanley Cup, Theoren “Theo” Fleury also was a boozing, drugging mess who hit a career-ending suicidal low before turning his life around. Crucial to his transformation was his coming out as a survivor of childhood sexual molestation. Victor Walk, a documentary that’s more inspirational than artful, traces the salient points in his life story and, above all, shows the power of celebrity to start conversations, shatter stigmas and change lives.
The movie, which received the Audience Award for Documentary Features at Dances With Films, is a rallying cry around its subject’s victims-to-victors ethos. Its emphasis on the impact of trauma and the need for healing should make it especially welcome in therapeutic settings.
Michael David Lynch’s film takes its name from the 10-day, 250-mile trek from Toronto to Ottawa that Fleury embarked on in 2013. His goal was to promote awareness around what he calls “the biggest epidemic on the planet” and bring his arguments for justice-system reform to Parliament.
Fleury, who revealed his abuse in a 2009 autobiography, put on skates at age 5 and never looked back. The rink offered him not just escape from a difficult home life but a sense of purpose and belonging. Playing hockey, he felt loved and respected. Yet it was his athletic mentor, a coach named Graham James, who would repeatedly molest him — and, as it turns out, many other boys entrusted to his care.
It is, by now, an old story, and one that’s no less sickening for being familiar: authority figures exploiting their institutional positions, and their wholesome images, to groom and rape defenseless kids. On his walk, Fleury passes through towns that are still reeling from revelations of child sexual abuse by coaches and priests. His interactions with the walking wounded are what make the film more than a collection of arguments and affirmations.
Fleury is plainspoken and likable, in both conversation and voiceover (he and the director share narrating duties). But what’s most affecting about this chronicle of his peregrination is the compassionate way he connects with fellow survivors. Overcome with gratitude, Gen Xers and baby boomers approach him, sometimes running across the highway to thank him for his courage. There are offers of cash, but mainly tearful hugs. He listens to them. Sometimes he offers advice, clear and no-nonsense.
Some of his grateful fans share the horrendous details of their abuse. Some aren’t ready to do so on camera. In one case, a woman’s story is heard over time-lapse footage of the night sky, natural landscapes and city skylines — reinforcing the sense that Lynch’s chief concern is therapeutic rather than cinematic, however lovely the visuals.
During the cross-country walk and in media interviews, Fleury makes clear that he sees childhood trauma, in all its varied forms, as the root of most societal ills, addiction chief among them. Exasperated over light sentences for convicted predators, he ends his trek by confronting legislators and cabinet members on the need for tougher sentences. But beyond the Jessica’s Law model he espouses, he also argues that mental health treatment for molesters is essential.
Avoiding new-age aphorisms while delivering affirmations, Lynch’s film offers straight talk about healing and a portrait of hard-earned self-awareness and committed advocacy. It might not be earth-shattering filmmaking, but its message matters.
Production company: We Push Trains
Narrators: Theoren Fleury, Michael David Lynch
Director: Michael David Lynch
Producers: Paul Matthew Gordon, Michael David Lynch
Executive producers: Theoren Fleury, Kristine Lynch
Director of photography: Michael David Lynch
Editor: Paul Matthew Gordon
Composers: Ramin Kousha, Chris Thoman, Nick Donnelly
Not rated, 89 minutes