Published Nov 01, 2013The players on the Charleston Chiefs hockey team in George Roy Hill's Slap Shot don't have ambitions to further their careers, so much as keep them alive. By focusing on the fringes of the sports world, rather than the spotlight, the film finds its humour and heart in the long bus rides, raunchy locker room banter and cheap promotional stunts that keep the lifestyle interesting.
Reg Dunlop (Paul Newman) is the team's player/coach and unchallenged leader, a hardened veteran in the midst of a failed marriage and fledgling career. The team isn't doing well financially or on the ice and, in an effort to boost attendance in a town where a mill closing is about to put many people out of work, its players turn towards outright pugilism. This begins with the acquisition of the brothers Hanson, three bespectacled oddballs who dish out violent hits during games and play with race cars in their spare time.
When rumours abound about the team being sold and relocated to Florida, Reg attempts to learn the mysterious identity of the team's owner from their conniving manager (Strother Martin), so he can make a direct plea to keep them alive in some way. In a feisty, charismatic performance that he described as one of his favourites, Newman leads a cast of memorable characters on the team, which includes French-Canadian goalie Denis (Yvon Barrette), the sleazy Wanchuk (Brad Sullivan) and Carlson (Jerry Houser), who gives himself the nickname "Killer." Their best player, Ned Braden (Michael Ontkean), refuses to resort to fighting just to increase attendance and the conflict this creates with his coach is compounded by the fact that Reg insists on meddling with his tenuous marriage to Lily (Lindsay Crouse).
The film has become regarded as one of the best sports movies of all time because of its anarchic spirit and colourful dialogue, but what resonates is how the humour is mined from a genuine dark place, one where desperate men are forced to exploit the most violent aspects of a sport to entertain the downtrodden.
The antics of the Hanson brothers are the sole focus of the supplemental material, with the fictional siblings (in real life, only two of them are brothers) serving as guides to a look back at the classic. Aside from the option to access any of their scenes with a push of a button, there is also a short interview and a commentary track with the trio. The latter contains quite a few long pauses and little insight in scenes that they do not appear, but there are some laughs and much praise for the veracity of Nancy Dowd's screenplay. Her brother, Ned, not only appears in the film as legendary goon Ogie Ogilthorpe, but also helped the brothers land the parts after playing on a team with them while Nancy was researching for the film. (Universal)