Today I will make a departure from NHL talk and put on my Siskel & Ebert hat. I had the opportunity (as did a couple of dozen SenShot readers along with a packed theatre) to see a special premiere screening of the documentary, The Last Gladiators.
The movie opens to the public today, but last night’s presentation had the bonus of having the principle of the movie, former enforcer Chris Nilan, participate in a Q&A session after the film.
First off, the movie was excellent. It followed Nilan from a rough childhood in Boston, cheering for the Bruins, through his upward climb through college and the minors and onto the NHL. It also offered insight on some behind the scenes happenings in Montreal and the confrontation that led to his being traded to the New York Rangers, the moment that “broke” him. It also tracked his career post-Habs as well as the return to Montreal to finish his career. Then it got serious, as it profiled the eventual fall from grace that involved an addiction to painkillers, alcohol and eventually heroin. There were heartfelt and sobering comments from family members, most notably from his father who pulled no punches and said how he felt about his feelings for what had become of his son. The final act was the rise back to sobriety, which is never easy and followed a rocky road.
While Nilan was the primary subject of the film, we found out during the Q&A session that the development came about during the production after producers sat down and talked with him. It was originally going to features group of tough guys from the late ’70s and the 80’s. Those other players (such as Terry OReilly, Tony Twist, Todd Ewen, Bob Probert and Marty McSorely) were presented in “supporting” roles, as a majority of the focus was on Nilan’s incredible story.
By Design, as we would find out during the Q&A, there was a surprise lack of mention of the politics of the toughest guy, as well as the psychological and physical effects felt by many enforcers during and after their careers.
The movie was well produced, had its share of touching moments, bits of humour, and as one of the segments was titled, took the viewer on a “Roller Coaster Ride”.
As good as the movie itself was, the Q&A segment was equally entertaining. Nilan limped into the theatre, showing the obvious wear and tear of a career filled with physical challenges and then an equally challenging “retirement”. However, he was engaging as a speaker in that thick Boston accent, and was entertaining in fielding the questions. He answered from the heart, and owned up to the situations he had put himself in, and the demons that ruled his life for some time.
He also earned some bonus points when he was asked if there was a player playing now that he sees a bit of himself in, and he didn’t hesitate to answer Chris Neil. Also earning himself some credit from the many Habs fans in attendance when he said that even at 54 years of age, he wanted to sign a contract with the Canadiens for the sole purpose of fighting Zdeno Chara for his hit on Max Pacioretty a couple of years ago. Nilan said he probably wouldn’t win, but he would “show up for the fight”.
If you weren’t in attendance for the Q&A, then you missed out. But I would wholly recommend seeking out where you can see the movie. It is more than worth the price of admission.