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The Last Gladiators (2011)

1:59 | Trailer
In ice hockey, no one is tougher than the "goon". Those players have one mission: to protect the star players at any price.


Alex Gibney





Credited cast:
Donald Brashear Donald Brashear ... Self
Lyndon Byers Lyndon Byers ... Self
Guy Carbonneau ... Self
Don Cherry ... Self (archive footage)
Todd Ewen Todd Ewen ... Self
Stan Fischler Stan Fischler ... Self
Bob Gainey Bob Gainey ... Self
Craig Janney Craig Janney ... Self
Marty McSorley Marty McSorley ... Self
Mark Napier Mark Napier ... Self
Chris Nilan ... Self
Bob Probert Bob Probert ... Self
Dan Rather ... Self (archive footage)
Serge A. Savard ... Self
Paul Shantz Paul Shantz ... Self


In ice hockey, no one is tougher than the "goon". Those players have one mission: to protect the star players at any price.

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


Some fights never end


Documentary | Sport

Motion Picture Rating (MPAA)

Rated R for language

Did You Know?


Chris Nilan married the daughter of Whitey Bolger's girlfriend. See more »


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User Reviews

The 'Beyond the Mat' of hockey movies - inherently fascinating and sad
21 March 2016 | by Quinoa1984See all my reviews

I think that this movie's appeal is that it stretches beyond being solely for hockey fans, and I'm sure that's what director Alex Gibney has in mind. It's not even necessarily about hockey - it could have been just as well about football or, of course, wrestling, and the 2000 doc Beyond the Mat which is about broken down wrestlers past their prime came to mind - as it is about male aggression and only being good at one real thing.

The main subject is an ex player who played most of his time for the Montreal Canediens named Chris Nilan, though several subjects interviewed who were part of the group of players who were around for decades known as enforcers (though recently all but discontinued from the sport). Their whole task, though not discouraged from playing hockey or maybe getting good at it per-say, was to beat the every-loving crap out of other players and protect players who could actually be great (a player from the Oilers, McSorley, for example, is interviewed, and he claims and not without justification that he helped Gretzky get to where he was as "The Great One").

We see how these really, truly tough bunch of people - McSorley's career ended abruptly after hitting Donald Brahseur in the head with his stick - got by in a sport that, for a very long time, actively encouraged violence within the bounds of the hockey rink. Nilan as the key person in Gibney's film is a figure who is initially a figure of just outright, full-blown masculine-meat-headed status, a guy who plays old-timer games and still talks like he's about to punch someone out. He comes from a place where, psychologically, it made some sense coming from an abusive home (or just 'how things were done then' type of thing between "tough" dads and their sons) and used whatever skills he had with his brawn over his brains in an activity that made it a career.

Not that Nilan didn't simply love to play hockey, but one of the fascinating things is how he had to really learn how to play once he was hired by the Canadians, and got the support of a coach who saw a little more in him than being "Knuckles" as he was nicknames (and incidentally, as a strong visual approach, to open the film we first see Nilan's hands and he is even missing a knuckle by the point of his life that he's interviewed).

The first 2/3rds of the movie is more or less a look at his career in the NHL, sprinkled with some other interviewees who worked as enforcers (in short, if you were there on the Flyers or playing against them, watch out). The last third, however, is where it gets depressing but illuminating - his life post hockey, as he retired at 33 (as Nilan quietly and sadly remarks, "I was old"), and tried to work in insurance before becoming kind of aimless and adrift and, worse yet, on drugs.

The Last Gladiators will have some insight for people who follow hockey or were following the teams at the time (and Nilan was on the team when they won the Cup in 1986, albeit this was years after their incredible streak), but it's much deeper than that for people who don't follow the sport or couldn't care less. As a story of a man who has gone through a lot in life Gibney's approach is revelatory in that this man is not likable, certainly not someone you can easily see yourself hanging out with for long, but he becomes a tragic figure due to his career path and the limits of his skill set.

Though the documentary could have gone a little more into the further troubles of enforcers post-career (some of the major ones, even those interviewed here oddly enough, have died due to CTE, which is usually found in football and boxing players), what is here is enough for Gibney to reveal this man to us in a way we wouldn't see otherwise. It's a raw, sad movie about the bittersweet levels that come with being a TOUGH GUY (in caps), the desolation that is practically inevitable for those who use their skill sets to beat the s*** out of people... you know, for the game!

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Release Date:

22 April 2012 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Les derniers bagarreurs See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Locomotion Pictures See more »
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