Published May 10, 2012You don't have to know much about hockey to know the name Theoren Fleurey and what it stands for. A prodigious point-per-game player whose accelerated start into the NHL helped the Calgary Flames win their first Stanley Cup, Fleury's complete and utter fall from grace has been as definitive as his meteoric rise.
Struggling to keep his head above water after a lifetime ban from the NHL for repeated violations of their substance abuse program, Fleury produced his autobiography, Playing With Fire, wherein he revealed episodes of sexual abuse at the hands of his junior hockey coach, Graham James.
Less of a straightforward biographical documentary than a travelogue following Fleury touring with his book and as a motivational speaker, Playing With Fire follows a 14-month odyssey, travelling with Fleury to each site of his hockey career as he deals with his turbulent past and attempts to make amends as a recovering substance abuser.
While not exactly linear, the film is constructed in such a way as to effectively relive Fleury's life, beginning with his hardscrabble, middle-of-nowhere Saskatchewan upbringing. This means that the film tackles Fleury's sexual abuse early on, stacking the deck with his awkward, silent acceptance of an award from the Moose Jaw Warriors, as the years of suppressed rage begin to flow. The film goes on to recount his glory years in Calgary and the dark days in NYC and Chicago, where the handsomely paid superstar flushed nearly $50 million down the toilet.
It becomes clear that Fleury's openness about his victimization and the realization that it has helped other victims has given him a certain amount of closure, as he seems more level-headed and at peace than he's been portrayed as in the past.
While Playing With Fire skims over some interesting details (like the failed reality show about his concrete paving business or his explosive time in the UK following the end of his NHL career) and suffers from low-level cable production values and heavy-handed narration from the book's co-author, Kirstie McLellan-Day, its subject is a fascinating one. Seeing the pot-bellied former great in his most honest moments makes this worthwhile. (Pyramid)