The Last Gladiators (2013)
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Critic Reviews for The Last Gladiators
The opening sections of this film play like a greatest-hits clip collection, but when Gibney delves deeper into Nilan's personality, it's a magnetic portrait of a rinkside Raging Bull.
Gibney celebrates hockey's fisticuff traditions while also recognizing how such brutality ultimately takes its greatest toll on those who perpetrate it.
Gibney deserves credit for making a hockey film that the uninitiated can watch with interest, and for focusing on an issue even some hockey fans can't make up their minds about.
Pretty or not, the stories of dropped gloves and smashed faces shed some clarity on the game's violence ...
At his best, Gibney focuses on his subject and then explodes it outward. But with "The Last Gladiators," he's taken a rare misstep. There is undoubtedly a great story within the bruised history of NHL enforcers. Why, though, did he choose Chris Nilan's?
Audience Reviews for The Last Gladiators
"The Last Gladiators" is a documentary that seeks to explore the careers and lives of various enforcers in the NHL while carefully walking the line between entertainment and expose. Of special interest here is Chris Nilan who played and fought 13 seasons for the Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Boston Bruins. While talking to plenty of his friends and family, the movie also interviews some of Nilan's fellow enforcers like Marty McSorley and the late Bob Probert. But the documentary should have also taken the time to talk to Mike Milbury who usually loves the sound of his own voice and could have provided perspective from three different angles.
That speaks to the documentary's central flaw, in that in solely following Nilan around, it is not able to fully explore whether or not his post-career life is typical of former NHL enforcers, not allowing for any new insights in the bargain.(Strangely enough the documentary fails to bring up concussions at all.) For example, sad as it sounds, many retired people sit around all day watching television. And many athletes not named Michael Strahan have a hard time adjusting to regular life after retiring from being a professional athlete. With Nilan, you have a chicken and egg debate in whether he was aggressive to start out or did hockey make him even more so? In any case, I do not think he would have been better off without hockey, as it is nearly impossible to say what his alternate life would have been like.
Once again a kudo to the doc genre. A tough movie about tough guys, Chris Niland in particular, in a tough sport. While fans may mourn the drop in hockey fighting this movie sure tells why it is for the best for the athletes who play it.
A movie for hockey fans. For others it will drag. You need to know something about guys like Probert, O'Reilly, Semeknko, McSorley, Schultz & Kelley, Hunter, Brashear, Nilan and what they had to do to play the game they loved. If those names do not ring a bell (ha!) then the struggles of these men will not resonate. They were enforcers, protectors. "Without McSorly there is no Gretzky", as the movie says.
The movie centers on Chris Nilan - a former player with a harrowing life story. Here was a guy nicknamed "Knuckles" who did everything he was told to make the big time. He fought. He skated. He was a spark plug. He was born, bred and spent every second of his life doing anything he had to do to be a hockey player. Then the game was done with him and he had nowhere to turn. His father, a former green beret, still thinks Chris should be ashamed of himself. It isn't touchy feely in that household or in the league. Not everyone has the problems that Nilan does - but many do. The movie does not even mention concussions. Bob Probert - the toughest of them all - died at age 45. His brain showed signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. Like Junior Seau. And 76 out of 79 former NFL players.
Nilan could also play the game. So could Probert. The pure goon (like Twist) is a species that the NHL is eliminating. Fighting became part of the game back during the original 6 days when officials could only see so much. Someone cheap shots your star - officials don't catch it - you send out the big guy to get medieval on the offender. Now with every game recorded from many angles, the league can aggressively punish dirty players and the suspensions are a bigger deterrent than retaliation ever was. There is a fight every 3 games or so this season. It is a dying breed. Good for the game and its credibility.
Not so good for the guys that gave their bodies and took on all comers to make the NHL. These were hard men. The shedding of blood as entertainment was a staple during the Roman Empire - but it faded away 100 years before its fall. Thankfully it may also fade away in the NHL. Hockey is the real beautiful game. No athlete gives more to win a championship than those in the NHL with its endless, grueling post season.
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