This film chronicles the career of Maurice “The Rocket” Richard, an NHL player for the Montreal Canadians, from his childhood days in a Junior hockey league, to the season in 1955 where his suspension from playing for the remainder of that season led to violent riots in Montreal. This film is more than just an examination of Richard as a French-Canadian citizen and legendary hockey player (many still argue as the greatest ever to play) but also a look at his impact as an icon and living legend to the people of Quebec.
Many who knew Richard or witnessed him play always speak to his boundless determination and wicked intensity. This intense mood I speak seems to be the motivation behind Director Charles Biname’s manner of composing this film. Each scene feels like it is the dramatic crescendo of the film, as if each moment in the film is painfully crucial in the orchestration of his life. Now, having said that I understand that each scene IS crucial to molding Richard into the person he was, but every line is delivered with such dire emotion that you feel like you are watching Richard on a breakaway in the dying seconds of the Stanley Cup final…each second you are seething with anticipation for what could be a life altering event for everyone involved…but all that’s really happening in the film might be Richard coming home to dinner with his wife or having a smoke on Christmas. With this in mind, it can be said that many of these moments are overly dramatic. The Coach of the Canadians Dick IRvin, played by Stephen McHattie, is major culprit of this. With a Clint Eastwood-esque snear on his face, Irvin growls and screams commands that seem better suited for motivating a team of NAVY Seals rather than some athletes. Nobody has any calm emotions in this film, it is all or nothing, just as it was for Richard on the ice.
In many ways I was reminded of the Heritage Minutes that aired on Canadian television during the 90s. For you American readers, these were short films produced by the CBC that ran 60-seconds in length, and were about significant people and events in Canadian history In fact, here we get into some interesting trivia, Roy Dupius played Richard in a Heritage Minute about the famous match were he spent the entire day hauling furniture into his new house to the point where he was so exhausted that his friends were going to call his team’s staff to inform them that he could not play that night. Lo and behold, Richard showed up at the arena, half-dead from fatigue, and scored 5 goals and eight points that game, setting an NHL record. As far as I know, this is the only time an actor has played the same historic character in a short film as well as in a feature more than a decade later.
Now, I kind of went off on a little tangent there. This film did not remind me of these Heritage Minutes because of any recurring cast, but instead of the way that they would cram moments of great tension and/or significance into 60 seconds, which seems to be the director’s strategy I was speaking of before in how this film would make every moment as dramatic and booming with heavy emotion as possible; like seeing 2 hours of Heritage Minutes packed together…all about Richard, the NHL, or Quebec from the 30s to the 50s.
Whether the emotions were too much or not, it is undeniable that this is a well made, well acted film that does justice in honouring a truly deserving icon in Sports history. In fact, partly due to the intensity of the performances, I found the better part of this film absolutely riveting.
Widescreen 2.35:1. This film has a very good picture quality. Often during scenes where a certain amount of time has passed in the story, the footage will be filtered to resemble newsreels of that era. Thankfully they don’t crack and blur in a corny attempt to actually BECOME 40s newsreels, but help to give an authentic feel to the time period the film is depicting.
Sound is available in both Dolby Digital 5.1 surround or 2.0. The quality is fantastic. You are drawn right in to the film upon hearing that first roar of an arena full of Richard fans, coming out of each speaker. Great care went into all aspects of this film and the sound is a real highlight.
Subtitles Available in English and French.
There are two discs, each containing their own set of special features:
Filmographies: Nice to see when we are not dealing with major Hollywood stars.
Behind-the-scenes and interviews; “A Tribute to Maurice Richard, The Rocket” : a well-composed look at the making of the film, complete with comments on Richard’s life by those involved and various famous fans.
Deleted Scenes with Commentary by Director Charles Biname: Some small cuts made to the film with commentary in French by the director.
The Rocket: A full length documentary by the National Film Board of Canada. Richard meant a lot of things to a lot of people and many get their say in this documentary. Just as fascinating as the feature film itself, sans the need for intense, emotional acting. I was personally tickled by seeing one of my favourite animated shorts “The Sweater” being included.
The Rocket Photo Gallery: Also rather self-explanatory.
This is a fine bio-pic made with obvious care for its subject. Dupius does the role justice and gives the most balanced performance of the entire cast. All of the character’s emotions are heightened to the point where one can’t take them serious, which can be a shame because clearly they wanted to ensure audiences recognized Richard’s importance but many will doubt the historical credibility of such melodrama. Thank goodness it’s about sports and the stats will live on record forever, and Richard will always be a man who rose the spirits of an entire province of people, if not more. Great dedication went into this DVD, and it shows in the feature, the quality of the sounds and visuals, and the great volume of special features.