The Rocket Charles Binamé

The Rocket is as much a portrait of French Canadian life as it is a sports flick. We first meet Maurice Richard as an exploited factory worker during the Duplessis era. The values and work ethic that Maurice was raised with are drawn into focus as he falls in love with his future wife and faces the doubt of those who consider an NHL career unlikely for the relatively frail Richard.

Grainy, black and white, sepia-toned imagery elevate the stylish melodrama above "made for TV” status, the closest comparison might be Michael Mann’s Ali. The two-hour film details the career-threatening injuries Maurice faced, the allegations from sports writers that he was a lemon, and the mockery of the Toronto press that considered him a pea-soup loving French moron. The biopic benefits from a handful of Montreal characters (a barber, a working class brother-in law) who take pride in Maurice’s accomplishments as though they were their own.

Richard’s early trials and tribulations are mined for maximum dramatic effect, as are several specific moments in his career. The tension before Maurice fights a notorious enforcer (real NHL tough guy and loudmouth Sean Avery) is so well done that when number nine delivers not one but two knockout blows lovers of the game are likely to cheer as though they were really at the Montreal Forum. While the funny moments aren’t exactly brilliant, it doesn’t take much to amuse hockey fans lamenting the loss of the Leafs from their daily lives.

The film ends somewhat abruptly when the Rocket is suspended unjustly, leading to riots in the streets of Montreal. Despite the few minor flaws, the charming period piece should warm the hearts of those old enough to remember Richard, and hockey fans who wish they’d seen him play. (Alliance Atlantis)