December 21, 2007

The Rocket: The Legend of Maurice Richard


Reviewer: Walt Opie
Rating (out of 5): ***½

Somewhat surprisingly, the sport of ice hockey has inspired very few decent films over the years. You might be able to count them on two fingers: 1977's Slap Shot starring Paul Newman, and Disney's Miracle about the 1980 U.S. men's hockey team winning the gold. So it's nice to be able to add to this list The Rocket, a thoughtful biopic about the life of legendary Montreal Canadiens scoring machine Maurice "The Rocket" Richard (who retired from the NHL in 1960 and died in 2000).

Directed by Charles Binamé (Seraphin: Heart of Stone), it stars popular Canadian actor Roy Dupuis, who had already portrayed Richard for two previous projects (including a two-part French-Canadian miniseries). Dupuis reportedly did his own skating in the film, and the hockey scenes—which depict the NHL in the 1940s and 1950s before players wore helmets—have an admirable gritty quality of verisimilitude. Binamé has said of his inspiration for the hockey scenes, "I really wanted to capture hockey the way (Martin) Scorsese had captured boxing with Raging Bull."

One of the more memorable scenes in the film comes when Richard is being threatened at Madison Square Garden by Bob "Killer" Dill, a New York Rangers player known mainly for his dirty and near-deadly fights (played by current New York Ranger Sean Avery). Rather than try to stay away from Dill as everyone expects, Richard confronts him violently with a wicked punch in the face that establishes his domination as the real force to be reckoned with out on the ice. Dupuis is able to carry this off and remain sympathetic as the hero of the day.

During the final half hour or so, The Rocket becomes more than just a sports film as it addresses the flagrant discrimination by English Canadians against the French-speaking working class (known as Québécois) both within the NHL and in Canada itself. This issue, lesser known here in the States, was especially true around Montreal where in 1955 a riot ensues after Richard is deemed to have been treated unfairly by the NHL President in a famous incident that became known as "The Richard Riot." This is the key incident that frames the film. In a supporting role, Julie LeBreton does a lovely job portraying what must be an idealized depiction of Richard's adoring wife Lucille.

In French and English with subtitles. DVD extras include deleted scenes and the short film "A Tribute to Maurice Richard, The Rocket."

Walt Opie is the author of GreenCine's Sports Movie primer.

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Posted by cphillips at December 21, 2007 10:31 AM