This new documentary from Brett Harvey delves deep into the history and role of ice hockey’s sometimes-beloved, sometimes-criticized enforcers. These are the big men better known for starting on-ice fights than for scoring goals. Harvey interviews more than a dozen former and current enforcers who, as a self-selected group, mount a strong defense for the poorly understood utility of the role. Arguments range from the self-serving (it’s a way for less skilled athletes to play professional hockey) to altruistic (enforcers protect star players by selflessly taking on the inevitable violence of the match).
This isn’t a sensational clip reel of hockey’s best fights; there’s more talking than brawling. Harvey also talks to some sports historians and a couple academics, who weigh in with big-picture theories about the human need for violent spectacle and the outlet it finds in modern tribal groups, such as sports rivalries. Negative aspects of being an enforcer are addressed — chiefly the physical and emotional toll the players endure, though this group clearly accept the trade-off for a job they love. More interesting is discussion of whether the game is safer with or without enforcers. With a crackdown on fights, does more abuse land on stars? Where are the lines between player safety and satisfying the fans who want to see rough play? There are some answers here, though Harvey’s film would be stronger with the inclusion of some oppositional voices. Starts Fri., Nov. 25. AMC Loews