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Review: Former Red Wings star Terry Sawchuk gets hokey biopic treatment in 'Goalie'

Courtesy of Dark Star Pictures


Terry Sawchuk was a Candian professional ice hockey goaltender who played for 21 seasons in the NHL for various organizations ranging from Detroit Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and eventually the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers. That’s a hefty resume bolstered by his four-time Stanley Cup championships and his election to the Hockey Hall of Fame. His stellar on-ice record was, however, bruised by depression and alcoholism.

In the painstakingly bare bones “Goalie,” director Adriana Maggs - who co-wrote the screenplay with Jane Maggs - has her heart in the right place, but from a biopic point of view, the film is one giant conundrum. The film works more as a greatest hits album than it does about the actual life of Sawchuk who went through numerous obstacles in his career: trades to other teams, head injuries, and an abusive marriage that ended in divorce. “Goalie” only briefly touches on these events (I don’t think the divorce is even mentioned) leaving the real Sawchuk story on ice. Maggs awkwardly moves from one scene to the next, never finding the correct way to detail the story. The hockey arena sequences aren’t exciting and look hastily put together and half of Terry’s noteworthy accomplishments are heard off screen. Considering he won four Stanley Cups, you would think “Goalie” world put a spotlight on that.

Mark O’Brien is given the undesirable task of playing hockey legend Terry Sawchuck, and he stumbles through the motions. Much like his director, Adriana Maggs, who can’t decide what aspect of Terry’s life should be focused on, Brian can’t convey the balance between Terry’s personal and professional life.

In the beginning, there are minor details about his troubled youth in Winnipeg as the ice skater desperately tried to please his father, before he was seen as a burden after his brother, Mitch Sawchuck, suffered a heart attack at the age of 17. A heartbreaking and sudden tragedy that, in the right hands, could provide context to Terry’s mindset as he went pro, but in Maggs inexperienced grasp, it feels like an afterthought (much like the traumatic experience Terry had with a batch of puppies he found in the dead of winter).

Terry’s big break came with the Red Wings, after playing semi-pro to build up his profile, under the guidance of coach Jack Adams (Kevin Pollak) who saw something in the protege that nobody else did. Adams had a reputation for being a tough and strict couch in the locker room and Pollak feels out of his element, often screaming for no other reason than the script demands it, and the intimate scenes between him and Terry - who he calls a son - have no depth or warmth. In real life, the pair had a decent friendship and when Terry gets traded to the Bruins by Adams, it’s done so quickly that it’s not until we’re in Boston’s locker room that we make the connection. Other life events that are blink and you miss it include Terry’s dying mother, the birth of his two children, and the formation of the players union. Did I mention the guy won four Stanley Cups?

Cinematographer Jason Tan’s hockey sequences provide no excitement on the ice or off, opting to shoot the film with dark and gloomy tones that offer no complexion on the actors’ faces. “Goalie” is a bleak looking picture and the cheap CGI hockey arena the filmmaking team has crafted dies on arrival. In fact, I think there’s only about five hockey scenes throughout “Goalie” and it became clear why there wasn’t more: the film was made on a Lifetime movie budget. To help make up for those shortcomings, Magg unsuccessfully tries to introduce an odd documentary style framing device featuring NHL legends (played by actors) who look back on Sawchuk’s career. Every new player who comes into contact with Terry get brief title-card intros, complete with some key stats like a trading card and it does little for those who, like myself, don’t understand the lore of hockey beyond the movie “Miracle.”

Still, the film is harmless and the Candian production tries to incorporate value despite a direction that lacks a clear focus. I’m sure those who appreciate the sport will find something to enjoy in “Goalie” but true fans of Terry Sawchuk might wish his saga get another shot in the rink.

Grade: C-

GOALIE will be opening in numerous Detroit theaters starting Jan 31st (mostly Emagine's - check local listings) and it will become available on VOD at the end of February.

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