Reviewed by: David Stanners

It's Canada, 1972. The whole nation is gripped by ice hockey fever as the Canadians take on the mighty USSR in an eight game series. Shane Bradley (Luke Kirby) is a 28-year-old writer, gambler and soul-searching drifter. When his love for long-term friend Margaret (Sarah Polley) becomes apparent from a seemingly innocuous kiss, he begins to push his luck. Lacking the gumption to stop her going to London with her ex, he pines, yearns and gambles with his misfit buddies for two weeks in the hope that luck, or fate, will bring her back and pay off his spiralling debts.

There is a distinct small town Canadian feel to this. Writer/director Peter Wellington has captured the zeitgeist perfectly, using the national sport as a platform for the unity and patriotism felt at the time. With this, he weaves blankets of irony and humour into the tapestry to keep what could have been heavy, light.

When Margaret leaves, Shane, in his desperation, begins to challenge fate head on, borrowing $5,000 from the local gangster to pay back the casino, where he lost his stash. Instead of doing the sensible thing, he decides to flutter more down the lavvy, sliding further and further into the dungeon. But when the USSR start hammering Canada in the first three games of the series, Shane and his motley crew react by starting a book, taking bets for Canada, in the hope that the Russians will sweep to victory.

Kirby does a sterling job of conveying the gambler's priorities. The juice is in the action, rather than the result. Everyone knows punters never win in the long run. But win, lose or draw, adrenalin is on a rush in the middle stages, ebbing and flowing, peaking and dipping. When Margaret returns from England to tell him she loves him, Shane's delighted, but still the buzz of the possible scoop takes the front seat. "I can't talk to you right now," he mumbles, in a dramatic crescendo of fate, or is it luck?

Wellington has orchestrated a little gem here. The bookie shenanigans and slagging matches in Shane's house are worth a laugh; particularly funny is Andrew, a former concert pianist and interminable worrier. Although the plot meanders into the amorphous lifestyle of Shane too much, a decent gag, or a bet going wrong, usually rescues it.

The performances are strong, adopting as naturalistic an approach as possible. Often the strength lies in what is not said. Eye contact and awkward moments are aplenty.

Wellington's open-ended approach offers no definitive answers, other than luck can strike from any angle, usually the least expected. Maybe that's part of fate's overall design.

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Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2004
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Canadian melodrama about gambling, luck and the nation’s jewel in the crown, ice hockey.

Director: Peter Wellington

Writer: Peter Wellington

Starring: Luke Kirby, Sarah Polley, Sergio Di Zio, Noam Jenkins, Jed Rees, Molly Parker

Year: 2003

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: Canada


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