Monday, May 03, 2004


* * ¾ (out of four), * * * Canadian
Seen 2 May 2004 at Somerville Theater #2 (Independant Film Festival of Boston 2004)

Two thoughts occurred to me about this movie as I watched it:

1. I'll bet it's much more popular in Canada than here in the US. Native Canadians will probably latch on to the movie's environment as soon as the Canada-versus-the-Soviet-Union hockey series that serves as the movie's backdrop is mentioned; as an American I had no idea what they were talking about. The movie is proudly Canadian, "ehs" and all, and makes no concessions toward being accessible to its neighbor to the south. That's not a bad thing; it knows and serves its audience. The rest of us are probably missing some amount of historical context, though - if these hockey games in 1972 basically shut down the country with interest, then every Canadian in the audience knows how this backdrop is going to play out, which must add irony and tragedy to every statement where the characters assume that the Russians are going to win. If you don't know that background, as I didn't, you're likely missing half the movie.

2. Gambling as a metaphor for not being timid in one's life really needs to die. I think writer/director Peter Wellington gets this, because he shows gambling as ultimately self-destructive, but he also keys the film's finale on a wildly unlikely bit of chance. I suppose there's meaning, that even when we don't actively gamble, much of our life is still random events. But it's a little pathetic when, toward the end, Luke Kirby's Shane gives us a big of gambling-inspired philosophy well past the point when he really should know better.

There are a number of funny scenes - a lot of Shane's narration is fun to listen to (calling out a Gamblers Anonymous group, saying they don't have a problem with gambling, but with losing), and there's a frenzied, caper-comedy air toward the middle when Shane and his friends attempt to start their own bookmaking operation. But the film is also uncomfortably split in two ways - the first half is Shane retelling it to the GA meeting, while the second half is him narrating it for someone else. There's also a best-friend-he's-actually-in-love-with-who-just-broke-up-with-her-boyfriend, Margaret (Sarah Polley), but her presence and absence is arbitrary. Some of the best material relates to her, but she's got little to do with the middle of the movie. Was Ms. Polley only available for part of the movie's shooting schedule, requiring a write-around? Or was a girl necessary to make Shane's life seem less empty, even though actually having her around might be too stabilizing? Her complete disappearance at the end made it feel like a scene was left out.

Or is the whole thing just too Canadian for me? I'm not sure, although on balance more made me laugh than left me cold.

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