Written by Derek Snider
Theo Fleury’s autobiography “Playing With Fire” was an instant bestseller with 80,000 copies shipping in the first six weeks after its 2009 release. In the year after the book’s debut, documentary film director Larry Day followed Theo Fleury on his promotional book tour. What Day and his crew captured is an honest and sometimes brutal recount of Fleury’s tumultuous life.
Early in the film we see the positive impact Fleury and his book have had, but the movie takes severe detours from Theo’s book tour and delves into the darkest times of his life. Looking for closure in the two cities where his behaviour (on and off the ice) was the most erratic, Fleury’s attempts to make amends are rejected by both the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks. I suppose those organizations are still having trouble with the idea that Theo blew $400,000 of their money every two weeks on strippers, cocaine and booze…did I mention $400,000 EVERY TWO WEEKS? (Spoiler Alert: In one wild Chicago weekend Fleury spent $1.2 Million on a party…by himself!)
The movie picks up where the book leaves off on a number of fronts. The most shocking, of course, involves Theo’s account of the abuse he suffered at the hands of convicted sex-offender Graham James. Fleury’s description of the abusive acts inspires both anger and disgust. But it’s the way in which Fleury simply states the facts without emotion that is truly disturbing for the viewer. It is not easy listening for the faint of heart.
There are many faces to Theo Fleury, and the movie engages them all. Fleury is hailed as a returning hero by Madison Square Garden parking lot attendants and as a champion for the many abuse survivors that he has inspired. But we also see a broken man, angered and frustrated, unable to remember the address of a home he lived in for four years in New Mexico.
As discussed in this video interview with Rob Pizzo, “Playing with Fire” is truly a fascinating character study of one of the most volatile hockey players of all time, and one this reviewer recommends. Following its featured premier at Toronto’s Hot Docs Film Festival, “Theo Fleury: Playing with Fire” the documentary will air on HBO Canada on May 9th.
The official description from the director:
Theoren Fleury was on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Then the wheels came off. He made $50 million playing hockey and lost it all to booze, drugs and gambling. With unprecedented access, the film travels with Fleury as he visits the milestones of his life — good and bad, funny and tragic — a search for justice and redemption for one of the most volatile hockey stars of all time.