the rhino brothers (2002)

director: dwayne beaver

gabrielle rose, curt bechdholt, william macdonald, alistair abell

Probably the most immediately striking thing about The Rhino Brothers is how the film’s setting, shot in British Columbia, could be any hockey-mad small town anywhere across Canada. The 
landscape – a habitual preoccupation of Canadian films, at least in theory – is of no importance whatsoever, since the film happens entirely in the hockey rinks, bars and living rooms that exist everywhere in the country.

There’s a particular male "type", as well, that populates every scene; a beefy potatohead, dressed in warm winter layers and prone to beery outbursts in what used to be called taverns but now get called sports bars. It’s no small measure of director Dwayne Beaver’s talent that he not only overcomes the caricature looming in his setting and characters, but the Canadian joke unhappily bundled with his name.

Ellen Kanachowski (Gabrielle Rose) is the mother of three boys, all of whom have had their dreams of playing in the major leagues tended by her with varying degrees of fanaticism. Sasha (William MacDonald) is the family’s indulged failure, a one-time pro building a wall between himself and the world one two-four at a time while playing on his brother Victor’s (Alistair Abell) senior "beer league" team. Stefan (Curt Bechdholt) is the youngest, a minor league hopeful who has come home with his girlfriend to reconnect with his thorny roots. 

Stefan, it seems, is set to follow Sasha into has-been status, albeit voluntarily. While trying to summon the guts to tell his mother that he’s lost his love of the game, he’s drawn into the bitter competition she’s cultivated between the boys. Within a few scenes, they’re tearing at each other, armed with a lifetime’s worth of grievances, while their mother unconsciously plays them all against each other. At first it plays like a Sam Shepard play, provided Shepard was raised in Sault Ste. Marie.  

And then, as the stakes are raised and Ellen assumes full power over her sons, it turns into a Greek tragedy, with Rose as some vengeance-obsessed Queen Mother, acting through her children, destroying and consuming them in the process. It all sounds a bit grand for its small-town ice rink setting, but there’s a sureness and careful ambition to Beaver’s film that makes one wonder why it hadn’t been made years before.