Rocket on

Danielle Devereaux says The Rocket is on target.

Hockey Night in Canada has been back on the air for over a month, local leagues are in full skate, and given the frosty mornings of this past week, outdoor hockey scrimmages should be coming soon to a pond near you. If this doesn’t inspire you to bring your skates in for sharpening, perhaps a local screening of The Rocket will.
   
A Quebecois production, the biopic tells the story of Maurice “The Rocket” Richard.  If you haven’t heard of Maurice Richard you must not have grown up in Canada, or maybe you did, but you skipped elementary school or something, because the NFB animated film “The Sweater”, about a boy – no, an entire Quebec town full of boys – who idolize Maurice Richard was required viewing for anyone attending a Canadian school in the 80s and 90s.* Maurice Richard is a Canadian hockey legend.

The Rocket follows Richard from his early years as a blue-collar teenager – working by day as a factory machinist to help support his family, skating and scoring his local hockey team to victory by night – through to his legendary hockey career with the Montreal Canadians and his emergence as a Quebec hero. 
   
Filmed in Montreal and Quebec City with a Canadian cast and crew, the film includes archival footage of 1940s and 50s Montreal and the old Montreal Forum. Centered on the life of one hockey player, the film gives viewers some insight into the politics of language in the history of Canada. Richard rose to stardom at a time when many French Canadians felt like second-class citizens, and French hockey players had to speak to one another in English so that coaches and owners could understand them; the English made money off hockey, the French played it. In Richard’s day, players held day jobs in order to make ends meet.
   
Filmed during the 2004-2005 NHL season lockout, many of the film’s hockey players are NHL players in real life. The on-ice scenes are exciting, though I found them at times difficult to watch. None of the players wear helmets (!) and Richard takes more than his fair share of the beatings.
   
A man of few words, the character of Maurice is intriguing and intense, if somewhat elusive. The love story between Richard and his wife Lucille plays out in the film’s sidelines. Our first glimpse of Lucille is as the cocky kid sister (boldly kissing her older brother’s friend Maurice on the lips), then the defiant daughter (insisting she will marry Richard with or without her father’s permission). Unfortunately, after their just-married love scene her character does little other than fret and look worried. Aside from the birth of their first child, an occasion which led Maurice to change his jersey number from 15 to 9, the Richard children are not part of the story-line. Yet the real-life couple had seven children. So while Lucille Richard may well have looked stressed out most of the time, she must have been a busier, stronger and more interesting woman than the film lets on. Her character’s fade-to-dull is disappointing and does little to shed light on her husband’s character or his life outside of hockey.
   
That said, the movie is well worth the time it took to watch. The ever so handsome Roy Dupuis stars as Maurice Richard, and the story of Richard’s evolution from the apolitical boy who just wants to play hockey to the hockey legend who helped establish a place for French Canadians in Anglo Canada is engaging. In fact, the movie may well inspire you to put a Canadian history book or two on your Christmas wish list.
   
The English version of The Rocket was released in theatres across Canada last April. If you missed its brief stop and your local Empire, now’s your chance!b

*If you haven’t seen or cannot remember “The Sweater”, you have to go now and borrow it on VHS at the A.C. Hunter Library, or online at www.nfb.ca/animation.

The Rocket plays Thursday, Nov 16 at 7:30pm in the MUN Engineering Lecture Theatre, tickets are $2. The general public is welcome.