Sunday, September 28, 2008

SLAP SHOT (George Roy Hill, 1977, USA)

SLAP SHOT is modern slapstick, violent poetry and satire that cuts so close to reality that it blurs the blue-lines between documentary and exaggeration. Filmed and saturated in 70’s culture, from leather suits, huge collars, plaid pants, Fu-Manchu mustaches, shaggy sideburns, and silk dress shirts to the goon-era of professional hockey that reflected the dominant Philadelphia Flyer dynasty.

Reggie Dunlop is a player/coach of The Chiefs, a losing franchise in the fictional Federal League and nearing the end of his playing career with no future plans. He motivates his players to Spartan-like violence and bloodletting to hopefully secure the team’s sale because it brings in the crowds!

This testosterone-fueled fantasy is written by a woman and this lends an emotional realism to the characters; we understand them as people and not just cartoonish caricatures. The personal conflict between the hockey wives, their isolation, and sordid affairs strikes a vibrant chord of honesty and insight, as does their relationships to their husbands. We see behind the pugilistic veneer of the sport and empathize with Reggie as his career nears its completion…with no future outside of hockey.

George Roy Hill films amid the blue-collar steel mills and smoke stained skies to create social friction: the rioting violence reflects the town’s spiritual economy and they at least live vicariously through their underdog team. The hockey scenes are the best ever filmed: the camera is right there in the action, often at ice-level, relying on medium shots to see the characters skate and stickhandle. It’s obvious that many of the actors were very competent players! The close-ups of shattered teeth, split lips, broken glasses, and gouged eyes are over-the-top funny but not too far from the truth…as are the locker-room epithets. Reggie Dunlop is old time hockey: Nick Braden represents the dawning of a new era (Gretzky was only two years away) and his ridiculous striptease mocked the insincerity of the sport’s professional status.

Final Grade: (A)

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