Matt Slaughter (Stephan James) is poised to become the next NHL great and the first black professional player from Nova Scotia. In the days before he’s set to be picked up by a team, racial tensions are erupting at his school. While he tries to keep himself out of trouble, Matt finds it increasingly difficult to separate himself from the fights that keep occurring. He grows close to Jayme Crowley (Sarah Jeffery), a woman of mixed race whose white boyfriend John (Steven Love) happens to be friends with Todd (Dennis Theriault), the person at the centre of problems. If dealing with the racism and from Jayme’s boyfriend isn’t enough, Matt must also deal with his criminal brother whose behaviour also threatens Matt’s chances at achieving his dream.
I am a Canadian but I don’t often get the chance to see real Canadian films so when I heard about this one, I had to see it and that I did. I haven’t seen too many Canadian films in my lifetime but the out of the ones I’ve seen, I have yet to find one that I’ve really liked. I also liked Stephan James in Race (which was a decent film) so I was interested in seeing what he would do here.
The story here is about a black, hockey player named Matt Slaughter (James) who aspires to become the first black professional hockey player from Nova Scotia. As he’s about to picked by a team, racial tensions begin to escalate at his high school. In the meantime, Matt is struggling to keep himself out of trouble, trying to separate himself from the fights that keep occurring. Over time Matt grows closer to a woman named Jayme Crowley (Jeffery) whose boyfriend John (Love) happens to be friends with Todd (Theriault) the person who is at the centre of these problems. Matt must not only deal with racism in his sport and in his community, he must deal with John and his criminal brother whose behavior is putting Matt’s dream in jeopardy.
So the film established the racism early on establishing the fact that this film was based on real events starting in 1989 with a riot a Cole Harbour High School between students from Eastern Passage, Nova Scotia, a predominantly white community, and North Preston, which is predominantly black (you can Google it). The film takes place in the aftermath of this with racial tension ongoing between both communities and this was very prevalent here. The one thing that I didn’t like about this was I found its depiction to be a little over-the-top. Most of the white people in the film were depicted as one-dimensional racist caricatures. They would just go out of the way to incite conflict with black people. They always seemed to be fighting each other. You always knew it was about to happen as the music always changed. I just found that this happened way too often, almost lessening its intended impact.
Also, Matt’s story was not the only one here as the film had a lot going on plot-wise. The film also followed Jayme as she also tried to navigate through the racial tension at the high school. She always voiced her opposition to what was happening, much to the dismay of John’s friend Todd. Earlier I talked about white people being caricatures and no one reflected more of this than Todd. This got so bad, that I found him very annoying although I can see people hating him as well. I did not only find him racist but also misogynistic (at this point why not) as he often got in the way between Jayme and John and the plans that Jayme had for the both of them which never really went anywhere. I found that the film focused on the subplot a little too much as I never really believed in their relationship because it was never established, I just didn’t care enough about it, and I found it took away from Matt’s story. The film’s relatively short running time at 87 minutes further amplified this.
Matt’s story was the most compelling, because of James and his performance. His story was fun to watch as I found myself invested in whether or not he would succeed at his dream. Not only did he have to deal with racism but also his own family problems involving his brother but also with Jayme’s boyfriend John. He just felt threatened by Matt perhaps because he was black. I thought this did not really go anywhere until the end. His family problems were mostly caused by his brother, this never really went anywhere either. I just felt frustrated along with him with all the racism happening around him and hoping that he would get out of there. I just wish the film could have spent more time with Matt. I know that the other subplots were mostly used to point out how racist the city was but I think we could have got it anyway.
Overall, this film had a promising story and led by a great performance James but was just drowning in too much racism.