Filmmaker Alex Gibney, who won an Oscar for Taxi to the Dark Side and acclaim for Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, has recently taken to sports and one of his most recent efforts is an inside look at ice hockey’s enforcers in The Last Gladiators.
No one is tougher than the “goon”. These players have one mission: to protect the star players at any price, no matter what the cost—to themselves or others. With poignant interviews, incisive commentary and sharp editing, the film scores on the tough-guy topic which features such all-time enforcers as Donald Brashear and Marty McSorley.
What Gibney does well is both a look at the psychological cultivation that comes with that tough guy role including the expectations one faces to be a fighter out on the ice and explore the price of glory beyond fan and teammate adoration.
Typical is former Montreal Canadiens’ Chris “Knuckles” Nilan, once one of the most feared enforcers in the National Hockey League.
Helping his team to a Stanley Cup crown has come at a steep price for Mr. Nilan. Experiencing a tough post-career let-down when the cheering stopped, the man who spent some 3,000 penalty-box minutes in a 13 year career, has been living with the physical and emotional scars involving alcoholism, painkiller abuse, strained family relations, inability to hold a job, other assorted addictions and eventually wrenching rehab most all stemming from the ravages of his profession.
Though the hot button-topic of concussions is notably absent in this presentation, we certainly do get a sense of the overall toll protecting a team’s star players has taken on being an enforcer in professional hockey.
Gibney’s other sports films feature tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams as well as Lance Armstrong.