The Last Gladiators Reviews
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.
Watched at home on Netflix with Josh, June 18, 2015.
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.
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.
And another proof, if needed, that having a big asshole as a father will lead you to be pretty fucked up.