“That suit was a nice touch…You know, I wore one when I got cut too. I wore it every day for a month.”
Hockey hasn’t been the focal point of nearly as many movies as the other major North American sports, certainly not as much as baseball and football anyway. Even when it has, too often the framing story is so banal (such as in 1986’s Youngblood) or the hockey sequences are so poorly constructed (1936’s King of Hockey) or the fighting component so over-exaggerated (1977’s Slap Shot), that any real enjoyment of the film as a “hockey story” is lost. Even Canadians don’t always get it quite right in our own films (1973’s Paperback Hero). A recent low-budget Canadian film, however, has succeeded where many others have not — 2001’s The Rhino Brothers. Seville Pictures has now made the film available on DVD in quite a nice package.
Ellen Kanachowski is a hockey mother in small-town Canada. She has three sons and has pushed them all to try to succeed as professional hockey players. Victor never made the grade and now owns a successful sporting goods store that sponsors the local team called the Rhinos. Eldest son Sasha made it to the minor leagues, but was cut and returned home. With no visible sign of gainful employment, the bitter ex-professional now lives with Ellen and plays for the Rhinos. Into this situation returns youngest son Stefan with his girlfriend Alison. Stefan is looked on as the town’s chief claim to hockey success, as he is apparently an up-and-coming player in the minor leagues, with NHL potential. Stefan first implies that he has returned merely for a visit since he is nursing a knee injury, but the truth is something else — and something that he doesn’t really want to reveal to his mother and brothers, never mind accept for himself.
The Rhino Brothers is a film with a hockey setting that manages to get it right, despite its low-budget production. (The film was shot in high-definition video with location work taking place in British Columbia.) Everything about this film reflects the director’s and writer’s understanding of small-town hockey and the central place it has in the lives of many local people. The hockey scenes on the ice are authentic, as is the feel of the local rink and its dressing room, but more telling are the hockey scenes off the ice, so familiar to Canadians — the practice shots and one-on-one play in the garage, the joy of a well-used table-hockey game and the excitement it can generate, and “replaying” the game in a local bar afterwards.
But the film is more than just an appreciation of the game’s central position in Canadian sensibilities. It is a compact portrait of a dysfunctional family that is centered on a mother who has sacrificed everything in her life to the goal of getting her sons to the big league. Everything must be secondary to that goal — relationships, job satisfaction, even personal integrity — and approval can only be given for success related to it. Both Victor and Sasha have dealt with their failure to meet their mother’s dreams in different ways; now Stefan is at the same crossroads. It is to the film’s credit that his choice is the realistic one, even though it may well lead him down the same path that Sasha has already trodden so bitterly.
The Rhino Brothers is filled with excellent performances. Most compelling is that of Gabrielle Rose as Ellen. She has the look and mannerisms of the obsessive small-town hockey mom down pat — the shapeless clothing, the chain smoking, and always one eye on the game, never lacking for a shrill yell of approval for a good play or nagging words of criticism for players or referees. Curt Bechdholt, William MacDonald, and Alistair Abell play the three sons (Stefan, Sasha, and Victor respectively) convincingly. MacDonald is the most experienced actor of the three and his work is outstanding. The anger and self-pity he manages to infuse Sasha with really sticks in your memory. Deanna Milligan also clicks with her portrayal of Alison, giving the character a harder edge than her pleasant outer appearance might suggest.
Director Dwayne Beaver orchestrates the production well in this his first feature film. In addition to the fine performances he has elicited from the actors, he stages the hockey sequences effectively and by framing things tightly, generally creates an overall feel of intimacy to the story that helps to accentuate the small-town setting and Ellen’s single-minded purpose. Look for the use of a camera mounted close to the ice for the opening titles and for many of the hockey sequences in the film.
Seville Pictures has generated a nice package for its DVD release of The Rhino Brothers. The image transfer is 1.85:1 widescreen; an anamorphic master was not provided by the producers for Seville’s use. Nevertheless, the results are very pleasing. The image is crisp and clear and contrast is very good. Colours are accurately rendered and shadow detail is fine.
The audio is a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix which does a satisfactory job with the dialogue. There are no particularly noticeable separation effects, and the surrounds only get a workout during some rather nice bluesy-country musical numbers by a group called The Skydiggers. There are no language or subtitle options, although the disc is closed-captioned.
The supplement package starts with a good audio commentary by direct Beaver. He takes us through the production details of the film as well as shedding some light on his choices for camera angles, lighting, and location work. He says a great deal about what he was looking for from the actors at various points in the story and he is then joined on the commentary by the actors themselves, who provide their own thoughts. A 12-minute making-of featurette includes comments from one of the producers, the director, the writer, and the principal actors. Between this piece and the commentary, we gain a very complete picture of the details behind the finished product. Rounding out the package are cast and crew biographies and a theatrical teaser and trailer.
Anyone looking for a film that is both a good hockey story and an engrossing study of human nature and family dynamics is encouraged to seek out The Rhino Brothers. Seville Pictures, whose DVDs to date have for the most part been available in Canada only, is selling this title internationally. The combination of a fine film and a good DVD presentation make this one easy to recommend.