After seeing The Rocket, the story of hockey hero Maurice ‘Rocket’ Richard, I have now seen more movies about hockey than actual hockey games. I’m not a hockey fan, and haven’t watched more than a handful of games since I was a teenager. Even though I don’t know my cross checkers from Chinese checkers, I was familiar with the story of Rocket Richard. I think all Canadians are—it’s part of our DNA. If you don’t believe me, here’s a personal story to illustrate how pervasive his legend is. I come from a long line of non-hockey fans, and despite my parent’s disinterest in the game, they named their little bundle of joy after Rocket Richard.
His life was the stuff of legends. During 18 seasons of professional play he set records, becoming the first person to score 50 goals in 50 games, and once skated down the ice and placed the puck in the net despite having a two hundred pound member of the opposing team on his back. He was a fiery competitor on the ice and off. For his agile playing style a famous folksong described him as “wind on skates;” for his commitment to establish French language rights on the hockey bench and in his home province the song called him “all of Quebec on its feet.”
With such a legacy it would have been easy to make a film that put the Rocket on a pedestal a la Lou Gehrig in The Pride of the Yankees, but the filmmakers resist that temptation and instead present The Rocket warts and all. His quick temper gets him into trouble more than once, and his teammates razz him about his lack of education and verbal skills. On the plus side the movie paints him as the people’s champion, someone who stood up to discrimination by English team owners and officials, and helped start Quebec’s Quiet Revolution.
Quebecois superstar Roy Dupuis plays Rocket Richard with a brooding intensity that shows the pent up rage boiling just under the surface of Richard’s character. He closely resembles the sport superstar—although he had to wear contacts to duplicate the Rocket’s famous green eyes—and has the skills to make the hockey scenes exciting and believable, but, on the whole I found his portrayal of the Rocket a little too dour.
Occasionally The Rocket looks and feels like a two-hour long Heritage Minute, but is also a rare animal. It’s a sports movie that doesn’t rely on the usual clichés of the inspirational coach, or the band of misfit players that band together to win the big game. Happily it aspires to capture not only the hockey history intrinsic to the piece but also the cultural history that shaped the man and the hockey legend.