'Goalie': Film Review

Goalie - Publicity Still - H 2020
Dark Star Pictures
Doesn't make the play.

Mark O'Brien stars in Adriana Maggs' biographical drama about legendary hockey player Terry Sawchuck.

It seems unlikely that Goalie, a biopic about hockey legend Terry Sawchuk, will attract new fans to the sport. This is a film, after all, that begins with a scene depicting the autopsy of Sawchuk, who died at the age of 40 as a result of injuries suffered in a minor scuffle with a friend over money. The doctor examining Sawchuk's body, bruised and battered as a result of playing for 20 years in the NHL, methodically points out the scars and lacerations bearing evidence of the tremendous physical abuse he suffered over the course of his career.

Unfortunately, even die-hard hockey fans may find something lacking in Goalie, directed by Adriana Maggs and partially based on Night Work, a book of poetry about Sawchuk written by her father. Co-scripted with the director's sister, Jane Maggs, the movie presents a grittily atmospheric but not particularly illuminating or involving portrait of its troubled central character, strongly played by Mark O'Brien (Arrival, Showtime's City on a Hill).

The pic attempts to cover all the biographical bases of Sawchuk's life, to an exhaustive but ultimately superficial degree. We're introduced to him as a child growing up in bleak Winnipeg, where he's emotionally scarred by finding the bodies of frozen puppies under his porch. But that trauma doesn't compare to the sudden loss of his older brother, who died at age 17 from a heart attack.

Following in his sibling's footsteps in aspiring to a hockey career, Sawchuk is signed as a goaltender by the Detroit Red Wings, led by GM Jack Adams (Kevin Pollak, delivering a solid dramatic performance in an underwritten role), whose propensity for trading his players led to his nickname "Trader Jack."

Although he treats his new player kindly, it's clear that Adams is less than concerned about his well-being, as illustrated in a scene in which he implores a seriously injured Terry to get back on the ice rather than follow the team doctors' advice to go immediately to the hospital. Sawchuk would experience many more such injuries during the course of his 21-season career that would find him playing for numerous teams including the Boston Bruins, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers. He would establish himself as one of the best goalies who ever played the game, but it came at a price. He suffered from depression and alcoholism, and his conflict-ridden marriage, which produced seven children, ended in divorce.

Goalie doesn't succeed in dramatizing these events compellingly. The episodic screenplay lacks narrative momentum, and the use of faux-documentary commentary by older versions of Sawchuk's colleagues (played by actors) doesn't come across convincingly. The scenes depicting his burgeoning romance with his future wife Pat (Georgina Reilly, O'Brien's real-life spouse) have a certain charm, but the subsequent married relationship is treated in rushed, superficial fashion.

Most problematically for hockey fans, certainly the film's intended target audience, the scenes set on the ice are poorly rendered. The obviously low budget couldn't have helped, but the choppy, visually drab sequences lack any of the visceral excitement that the game naturally generates with its violence and fast pace. One ultimately comes away with the feeling that Sawchuk deserved better in life and, despite the pic's obvious good intentions, better treatment on the big screen, as well.

Production company: Blue Ice Films, Telefilm Canada, OMDC, NOHFC, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation
Distributor: Dark Star Pictures
Cast: Mark O'Brien, Kevin Pollak, Georgina Reilly, Aiden Glenn, Eric Bruneau, Steve Byers, Ted Atherton, Janine Theriault, Owen Maggs, Gary Rideout Jr.
Director: Adriana Maggs
Screenwriters: Adriana Maggs, Jane Maggs
Producer: Daniel Iron
Executive producers: Lance Samuels, Neil Tabatznik, Tannaz Anisi, Gregory R. Schenz, Jason Tan, Mark O'Brien, Hussain Amarshi
Director of photography: Jason Tan
Production designer: Joseph Karbach
Editor: Simone Smith
Composer: Casey Laforet
Costume designer: Kendra Terpenning
Casting: John Buchan, Jason Knight, Jessica Daniels

109 minutes