Quebecoise filmmaker Charles Biname's crowd-pleasing sports drama is based on the true story of Maurice "The Rocket" Richard (played here by Roy Dupuis), the French-Canadian hockey legend who, during the 1944-45 season, became the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in 50 games. Set in the pre-helmet days of hockey, it's a record few players have ever surpassed.
Biname begins with Richard’s humble beginnings as impoverished adolescent (Francois Langlois-Vallieres) in Montreal -- he's seen barely getting by as a factory machinist during the Depression -- and covers most of his 18-year-career playing for the Montreal Canadiens. The film concentrates on Richard’s public image as a Quebecoise hockey star in a sharply divided Canada, and the unfair treatment the "Babe Ruth of Hockey" often received from fellow league players and the NHL administration. Working with a local reporter, Richard reveals the advantages given to the English players, and attacks the NHL officials for treating him and his fellow French-Canadian players as second-class citizens. Literally breaking down the barriers dividing the two classes in the stadium stands, Richard works to gain his fellow players the same playing time and press coverage as the Anglophones. Quite the accomplishment for a guy who started out a lowly factory worker.
With such admittedly over-used characters as the blue-collar boy with a dream that won’t die, the sharp-tongued coach (Stephen McHattie) who uses intimidation tactics to inspire his team, and the worrisome wife (Julie Berton) who desperately tries to set aside her fears and support her husband, it’s easy write this one off as RUDY on ice or the CINDERELLA MAN of hockey. Sure, it has all of the elements of an underdog tale that has been done time and time again, but it ultimately becomes so much more. The heart-pounding hockey sequences are executed as effectively as the quieter, emotionally charged moments between Richard and his wife that provide a wonderful balance between action and drama. Superb acting by the award-winning cast and the interesting twist that comes about half-way into the film should be enough to keep the audience enthralled. Released in Canada in 2005, the film won several Genie Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Oscar) including best achievement in direction and three of the top acting categories. (In English and sub-titled French) leave a comment --Adam Schubak