2005Director: Charles Binamé
Cast: Roy Dupuis, Julie LeBreton, Stephen McHattie
n Quebec, nothing can stop Maurice Richard. The feature-length, French-language bio-pic by director Charles Binamé not only follows the life of the beloved hockey player who brought eight Stanley Cups home to Montreal throughout the ‘40s and ‘50s, but it also boasts one of the province’s foremost actors, the brawny Roy Dupuis in the title role.
The formula almost guarantees success here, where “The Rocket” Richard is still sometimes better known as “Saint Maurice” and where, based on Quebec’s own internal star system, audiences flock in droves to locally produced movies. As a result, the film is a no-nonsense, full-scale deification of Richard, charting a path from his days as an accident-prone rookie to a bona fide superstar.
In theory, there’s nothing wrong with making a film about Richard. His life and career, so inextricably linked to life in Quebec over the past 50 years, more than justify the attention. In fact, you know you’ve got a winner on your hands when you’re told that after breaking records, winning titles, and inciting a riot, Richard went on to dominate five more Stanley Cup championships following the period covered in the film. But that is perhaps the main question raised by Maurice Richard: how to shape a cohesive and even compelling narrative from little more than a long series of (albeit awe-inspiring) victories. With so much of the same, just where do you start?
Opening with Richard as a machinist-in-training at a Montreal trade school, the film quickly zeroes in on the young player’s penchant for sticking to his guns, when his junior team, composed of mostly working-class youth, wins a key competition against their more affluent opponents. From there, Binamé speeds along, reveling in the many myths that surround Richard’s play, while hinting at the growing turbulence within relations between English and French Canada. Ultimately, it is the “Richard riot” of 1955—during which Montreal fans, livid that Richard had been suspended for knocking out the Boston Bruins’ Hal Laycoe (and injuring a ref), took to the streets around the Montreal Forum arena—which constitutes the real climax, and where Binamé periodically moves away from hockey to explore life among Richard’s contemporaries.
Dupuis, who has made something of a career for himself playing Richard on Canadian TV, manages to pull off the role with a reasonable approximation of his subject’s forceful glare. Also noteworthy is Stephen McHattie (the cartoonish murderer from A History of Violence’s opening scenes) as Habs coach Dick Irwin, an actor quickly becoming the go-to guy for playing thorny antagonists.
Overall, I don’t think I’ve ever had the opportunity to watch a film under such strange and ideal conditions, at the precise location in which most of the movie takes place: a chilly Montreal evening in the city’s old Forum arena, now a converted mall with a three-floored multiplex. Outside the theatre, a cluster of seats preserved from the original structure and a smallish statue of Richard are propped up opposite the entrance to a Future Shop. A photo of the Canadiens circa the mid-fifties hangs nearby, next to another of a grinning Céline Dion. If there is a place that lends itself to an appreciation of everything that the movie represents, this would be it. Still, as someone born outside Montreal, I couldn’t help feel that this film, with its celebration of the fervour and near idolatry surrounding Richard, is geared almost solely toward Quebeckers themselves. This one, in other words, is for the fans.
By: Bob Kotyk
Published on: 2005-12-21