Monday, December 17, 2007


Movie Review: The Rocket

I could talk about yesterday's game, but that would be more appropriate for tomorrow. Instead, I give you something completely different.

The Rocket is a dramatic, based-on-a-true-story, movie about the career of hockey legend, Maurice Richard. As time passes, who was once great in the past has a tendency to be more and more forgotten without remembrances of what they did. Being inducted into a Hall of Fame, statistics, opinions from writers, having their number retired, video and radio highlights, and such are all ways to preserve a player’s career. If only for people who have not had the fortune to watch the great ones play in real-life. A movie about a player is another good way and overall I feel it does the legend of Rocket Richard true justice.

Truth be told, I obviously never seen him play, as his career spanned the 1940s and 1950s. I’ve only heard stories about his stoic gaze, his ability to drive to the net, his lethal finishing with the puck, his supreme desire to win, and that he was an icon for many in Quebec playing for Montreal. So for me, this movie will assist me greatly – and many other current hockey fans – in our perception of Maurice Richard. For full disclosure, this sports drama is actually 2 years old, having come out in Canada in 2005. Now it is being distributed in the U.S. by Palm Pictures, who has not only made me aware of the film’s release and sent me a review copy. I’m very gracious that they allowed me this opportunity, and so I have viewed it in the original French with English subtitles for review.

The most important point with any movie, I think, is whether you can understand and “buy in” into the intent of the movie. If a movie takes itself seriously, but its premise or dialog or actors are definitely not serious, I would be more likely to start making fun of it instead of enjoying it as intended. For a movie like The Rocket, there are three main questions that must be answered: can you believe that the lead actor really is Maurice Richard, does the film clearly point how Richard became such a legend, and –this is especially important since it is a sports film – are the hockey scenes important and represent hockey.

I’m happy to say that The Rocket answers all three with an emphatic “yes,” and it is the strength of the movie. Roy Dupuis does an excellent job portraying Rocket Richard as the man, the hockey player, and the legend. He manages to succeed not just in looking like Richard, but in portraying that under his quiet exterior is a man with a desire to fight and succeed. That’s what people say about Richard in real life and I can definitely take Dupuis seriously as being Richard. In the movie, this constant desire to fight and succeed is a common theme throughout the movie. In the beginning, Richard gets through handling the trash quickly so he can join his semi-professional team and struggles to succeed after marrying Lucille Norchet. Richard continues to struggle quite a bit: to make the team in spite of injuries, to come back to prove himself – known as the Comet - otherwise after an early injury threatens his career, to win on the ice despite players looking to destroy him (casting Sean Avery as a goon was apropos), and to earn the respect he deserves despite being a French Canadian star in a league dominated by Anglophones who do not give him or his compatriots the respect they deserve. While you watch the film, you will notice that Richard is under a lot of pressure in these struggles, but he rises up to succeed and you will be cheering him on for the most part. In a sports drama about a player, this is important and the movie gets this right.

The movie also shows what is necessary to show why Richard is such an important legend. The vast majority of the movie is relevant to the larger theme of why Richard became an icon for the entire province of Quebec. In the majority of the film, contrast between the Francophones and Anglophones is quite apparent – right down to outright disrespect and slurs. The people in authority all speak English, most don’t give much time for the French (excepting the Canadiens franchise who does stick up for Richard - to a point after many years), and the NHL definitely did not protect Richard as much as they did for other hockey players – such as allowing “Killer” Dill to play against Montreal specifically to destroy Richard (and failed), demanding that Richard stop writing a column which did much to highlight the injustices in hockey against Francophones, and the lopsided punishment in the Boston incident near the end of the 1955 season, which culminated in the riots in Quebec. The important point is that while Richard is not a man of many words, his desire to succeed when others doubt him and others openly try to stop him with improper methods. For this, the movie does a great job in highlighting this and how Richard ultimately spoke up about it. As an example, there is one scene where a reporter tried to get Richard to speak up about the unfair treatment of French Canadian players get from the league. Richard is not interested at first, but it ultimately gets to him and he ultimately starts writing a column with the help of the reporter which leads to changes in how is respected in the franchise. Does Richards fully succeed? As evidenced by Campbell’s ruling after Richard is held by a referee while being punched and Richard’s subsequent decking of the ref, he does not. But because he stood up for himself, he is seen as an icon in Quebec and among Montreal fans and thus the movie succeeds in showing Richard has a true legend.

Lastly, the movie portrays exciting, dramatic hockey. For a hockey movie, this is important. One of the big reasons why Slap Shot is still regarded as a top sport movie despite being a comedy is that the actual hockey scenes in Slap Shot were exciting, realistic, and germane to the point of the movie. The Rocket is similar to that movie in the same way – the game back in the 1940s and 1950s was very tough and violent, while being quick. When Richard was on the ice, he made things happen – the movie could have easily just showed a shot or two of a goal, but they went further and showed the context of the play. The movie shows the build-up to the play wherein Richard would score and it further adds to Richard’s greatness on the ice. Only one scene is solely Richard scoring a goal isolated with the rest of the game, but that was the legendary one where Richard put it in while a Detroit player was literally on his back – which is perfectly fine. Nevertheless, the directions of these scenes were well done and are a highlight of the film.

What I think prevents the movie from being truly great are some omissions and points of confusion. First, nobody ages in this movie. It spans over 12 years and Richard, Dick Irvin, Lucille Richard, nor the reporter age one bit. I understand it is a movie, but it is a bit too much to swallow. Second, I felt that despite 2 hours of Richard’s career, there was more to explore about Richard. Don’t get me wrong, the movie is very good at what it does portray; but the movie does not touch on Richard’s family life (yet his brother-in-law and Lucille’s parents get much more screen-time) it just mentions that Richard played a few more seasons after his suspension in 1955, and there is nothing about what Richard did after hockey. Because of these omissions, you can’t take this movie as a complete picture of Richard. Perhaps it’s not supposed to be one, but I think it holds the movie back. Third, the director has this thing about using archival footage to portray the times the movie was set in. Personally, I felt they weren’t necessary with much of the movie being shot in color. While the footage was entirely used as transitional scenes, the simple subtitle stating the time of the movie was more than sufficient to set the scene. I’m not sure what the point of using it and trying to insert the characters of the movie in them; but they seemed to go away by the second half of the movie and I didn’t miss it.

That all said, The Rocket is still a very good movie – it’s just not a completely great one. The Rocket is well worth two hours of your time. It does a great job in portraying that Maurice Richard is indeed a legend, you’ll definitely believe Roy Dupuis as Richard, and the hockey scenes are great. If you are a hockey fan, a fan of dramatic portrayals, or somebody who wants to know more about the guy they named the goal scoring award after, you would really enjoy this movie. If you’re in Canada, you likely have access to this movie (or already seen it); but if you’re in America, you can now see it on DVD thanks to Palm Pictures.

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