The Last Gladiators (2011)

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The Last Gladiators: Directed by Alex Gibney. With Donald Brashear, Lyndon Byers, Guy Carbonneau, Don Cherry. In ice hockey, no one is tougher than the “goon”. Those players have one mission: to protect the star players at any price.

“I think that this movieu0026#39;s appeal is that it stretches beyond being solely for hockey fans, and Iu0026#39;m sure thatu0026#39;s what director Alex Gibney has in mind. Itu0026#39;s not even necessarily about hockey – it could have been just as well about football or, of course, wrestling, and the 2000 doc Beyond the Mat which is about broken down wrestlers past their prime came to mind – as it is about male aggression and only being good at one real thing.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThe main subject is an ex player who played most of his time for the Montreal Canediens named Chris Nilan, though several subjects interviewed who were part of the group of players who were around for decades known as enforcers (though recently all but discontinued from the sport). Their whole task, though not discouraged from playing hockey or maybe getting good at it per-say, was to beat the every-loving crap out of other players and protect players who could actually be great (a player from the Oilers, McSorley, for example, is interviewed, and he claims and not without justification that he helped Gretzky get to where he was as u0026quot;The Great Oneu0026quot;).u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eWe see how these really, truly tough bunch of people – McSorleyu0026#39;s career ended abruptly after hitting Donald Brahseur in the head with his stick – got by in a sport that, for a very long time, actively encouraged violence within the bounds of the hockey rink. Nilan as the key person in Gibneyu0026#39;s film is a figure who is initially a figure of just outright, full-blown masculine-meat-headed status, a guy who plays old-timer games and still talks like heu0026#39;s about to punch someone out. He comes from a place where, psychologically, it made some sense coming from an abusive home (or just u0026#39;how things were done thenu0026#39; type of thing between u0026quot;toughu0026quot; dads and their sons) and used whatever skills he had with his brawn over his brains in an activity that made it a career.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eNot that Nilan didnu0026#39;t simply love to play hockey, but one of the fascinating things is how he had to really learn how to play once he was hired by the Canadians, and got the support of a coach who saw a little more in him than being u0026quot;Knucklesu0026quot; as he was nicknames (and incidentally, as a strong visual approach, to open the film we first see Nilanu0026#39;s hands and he is even missing a knuckle by the point of his life that heu0026#39;s interviewed).u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThe first 2/3rds of the movie is more or less a look at his career in the NHL, sprinkled with some other interviewees who worked as enforcers (in short, if you were there on the Flyers or playing against them, watch out). The last third, however, is where it gets depressing but illuminating – his life post hockey, as he retired at 33 (as Nilan quietly and sadly remarks, u0026quot;I was oldu0026quot;), and tried to work in insurance before becoming kind of aimless and adrift and, worse yet, on drugs.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThe Last Gladiators will have some insight for people who follow hockey or were following the teams at the time (and Nilan was on the team when they won the Cup in 1986, albeit this was years after their incredible streak), but itu0026#39;s much deeper than that for people who donu0026#39;t follow the sport or couldnu0026#39;t care less. As a story of a man who has gone through a lot in life Gibneyu0026#39;s approach is revelatory in that this man is not likable, certainly not someone you can easily see yourself hanging out with for long, but he becomes a tragic figure due to his career path and the limits of his skill set.u003cbr/u003eu003cbr/u003eThough the documentary could have gone a little more into the further troubles of enforcers post-career (some of the major ones, even those interviewed here oddly enough, have died due to CTE, which is usually found in football and boxing players), what is here is enough for Gibney to reveal this man to us in a way we wouldnu0026#39;t see otherwise. Itu0026#39;s a raw, sad movie about the bittersweet levels that come with being a TOUGH GUY (in caps), the desolation that is practically inevitable for those who use their skill sets to beat the s*** out of people… you know, for the game!”


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