There’s a reason why a lot of stories have a formula…it’s because the formula usually works…
The Grizzles will never be accused of reinventing the wheel when it comes to the sports movie, but it is a solid and emotionally stirring yarn (inspired by a true story) about trying to make inroads of our native people in some of the more remote locations of our beautiful country.
It’s the year 2004, and in the Arctic parts of our country the suicide rate among young Inuit’s was the highest in North America. Enter young rookie teacher Russ Sheppard (Ben Schnetzer) who arrives in the small Nunavut town of Kugluktuk for his first job straight out of school. He’s culturally unaware of the Inuit ways, and the student’s, the staff and the town’s population are all suspicious of him and quite honestly of all white men. In hopes of making a difference, he introduces his student’s to the sport of Lacrosse and through some tenacity and true resilience, Russ not only changes the lives of his students, but together they change the lives of everyone in the entire town, including Russ himself.
While The Grizzles hits so many of the sports movie beats that it’s actually a little predictable at time, it really needed to be. On its surface it’s your run of the mill sports movie but deeper underneath this narrative is a story about the importance of not only honoring traditions, but embracing new ones and the vital emotional support that comes from those around you.
All long time producer but first time director, Miranda de Pencier has made a strong feature directorial debut here with The Grizzles. She successfully conveys the beauty of the territory but also the effect that the colonialism and the white man still have on the Inuit people even today. Yes it’s predictable but it’s also very self assured which is why it works as well as it does.
The script from Moira Walley-Beckett and Graham Yost is effective and it gets the crowd invested in not only the characters but the general state of affairs up north and the importance to truly be able to understand the ways of our native peoples. Yeah it gets a little heavy handed and clunky in moments as it tries to highlight how the white man has both intentionally (through the residential schools) or unintentionally (through modernization) really impacted the lives of the Inuit people but it also shows moments of compromise and adaptation which are so important in any walk of life.
Ben Schnetzer is solid in the lead as the well intentioned but ultimately ignorant to the ways of the Inuit white man alongside Ben Sasso who provides some solid comic relief. While there were some other experience actors like Tantoo Cardinal, Natar Ungalaaq, Eric Schweig and Booboo Stewart who have Inuit background, a lot of the casting came from non-actors who were Inuit. That’s where de Pencier really shines as a director with some experienced people in key roles that could elevate the non-actors and it all played seamlessly throughout the film. There are actors with no experience in this film who genuinely carry some of the more emotional moments in the film, and it really it hits you in the feels.
With a cast and crew that had a heavy Inuit influence, The Grizzles is an honest story about the challenges that the Inuit people face on a day to day basis but it also it reminds us of the importance of everyone being accepting of one another so that we can ultimately lift up and support one another to bigger and better things, and that’s a message that translates all across the globe.