From a young age Maurice Richard (François Langlois Vallières) had one desire and that was to play professional hockey. In 1937 after long and hard days working in a loud and dirty machine factory he would lace up his skates and pursue his true passion. A young man, who did not talk unless he needed to say something.He marries Lucille Norchet (Julie Le Breton – Maman Last Call, Quebec-Montreal) despite the protests of her father (Michel Barrette – Les Boys).
Maurice finally gets a tryout with the Montreal Canadiens and even though they are worried that he is not durable enough to endure the NHL (Maurice had broken his ankle not long before.), Richard (Roy Dupuis – Screamers, Being At Home With Claude) makes the team. Besides his talent and agility, it was his passion which made Maurice a legend.
His coach, Dick Irvin (Stephen McHattie – A History of Violence, Secretary), knew how to cultivate Maurice’s strong desires to win and pushed him to become a scoring machine. During his many seasons as a member of the Canadiens, Maurice ‘The Rocket’ Richard broke many records and his exploits resounded in the hearts of French Canadians as a victory against the oppressor.
Because he was French Canadian Maurice was not protected like the other superstars of the NHL and had to endure many unimpeded physical attacks on the ice. Richard began to write a column in a French language Montreal newspaper, which criticized the league for the lack of respect shown to him and other francophone players. Finally, he could take no more and Richard punched an NHL linesman during a game. When Richard was suspended by the league in 1955 for the rest of the season, including the playoffs, it caused the Richard Riot in the streets of Montreal.
Making a film about hockey legend Maurice Richard is a risky proposition, almost as big a risk that Mel Gibson took with his ‘Passion of the Christ’ film. This is how important Maurice Richard is in Quebec. Director Ken Scott (screenwriter of La Grande Séduction) does not take the easy way out either. He has not just made a biopic film; the film shows a different side of Maurice Richard. Richard is portrayed to be a hero for French Canadians; he fought for them by standing up for himself. He did not accept quietly being treated like a second-class citizen by the NHL even though he was its biggest star. He spoke out about the inequalities by writing a newspaper column.
This unwillingness to back down and the passion with which he played the game of hockey is why he became more than simply a hockey player to Quebecers, but a symbol of a people. His influence went beyond hockey into the way a whole section of the population viewed itself.
Scott also does a good job making Richard human and not just a superhero. His flaws (temper, pride, inability to communicate with others, etc.) are out there for all to see. This makes the film all that more poignant and realistic.
Roy Dupuis does a good job as The Rocket; he definitely has that ‘fire in his eyes’ look of Richard’s down pat. His portrayal of Richard the hockey player (Dupuis seems to have done much of the on-ice scenes), the husband, the father (Maurice Richard chose his famous number nine because his daughter was 9 pounds at birth), and French Canadian icon are all sides/nuances that Dupuis brings out in his performance.
The rest of the cast, especially Julie Le Breton as Lucille Richard, does a fine job. It also leant to the realism of the film that actual present-day NHL players, such as Mike Ricci (Elmer Lach), Vincent Lecavalier (Jean Beliveau), Stéphane Quintal (Dollard St-Laurent), Ian Laperrière (Bernie Geoffrion), and Mathieu Dandenault (Hal Laycoe) were used to portray the era’s players.
If you are interested in learning more about a man who was the biggest NHL star of his time and whose legend continues to live on after his death, see this well-made film.