The feel-good story of the Vegas Golden Knights’ remarkable first season in the National Hockey League meets the feel-good story of Las Vegas’ resilience following the 1 October shooting in Cruz Angeles’ slick documentary “Valiant.” With so much inspirational material, it’s tough for Angeles to go wrong, and “Valiant” is a watchable, well-crafted film that will appeal to Golden Knights fans who want to relive or memorialize the team’s improbable rise to stardom. But it’s never really more than a souvenir, and the central relationship between the team’s success and the city’s response to the tragic shooting gets only a superficial treatment.
Angeles has worked on various TV documentaries, and he previously directed “Fernando Nation,” an episode of ESPN’s acclaimed “30 for 30” documentary series, about LA Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela. The best “30 for 30” episodes use little-known sports stories to illuminate larger themes, highlighting the connection between sports and society. Lesser episodes simply recount well-documented phenomena, and that’s largely what “Valiant” does, relying on a combination of talking-head interviews (mainly with Golden Knights players and support personnel) and game-play footage. Even the behind-the-scenes moments, captured over the course of the team’s founding and first season, feel carefully stage-managed to portray the team in the best possible light.
That’s not surprising for a movie co-produced by NHL Original Productions, and it’s likely that “Valiant” DVDs will be on sale at Golden Knights games, following the film’s premiere during a pre-game event at T-Mobile Arena in November. Within that context, the movie captures the excitement of the team’s inaugural season, from the eagerness of locals to embrace professional hockey to the early skepticism to the shock and delight as the Golden Knights rack up wins and make their way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
After starting with the team’s genesis and owner Bill Foley’s tenacity in bringing hockey to Vegas, the movie introduces the most well-known players (including Marc-Andre Fleury, Deryk Engelland and William Karlsson) and shows how the team was built from a collection of underdogs, both on and off the ice. Just as the team is getting ready for its first regular-season home game in October 2017, the city is shaken by the shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country-music festival, and Angeles effectively conveys the horror of that night, including some disturbing first-hand footage. It’s a somewhat jarring shift for the movie, but the immediate aftermath of the shooting provides “Valiant” with its strongest cinematic moments, especially a sequence as Angeles cuts between various silent, somber reactions from his interview subjects and the 58 seconds of silence observed at the first Golden Knights game after the shooting.
Powerful visual moments like that are few and far between, though, and the movie quickly returns to its booster-ish tone as it celebrates the Golden Knights’ community efforts and showcases a handful of 1 October survivors and family members who made a connection to the team. As the shooting recedes into the past and the Golden Knights gain momentum on the ice, “Valiant” turns into a series of game recaps, the kind of thing that might air on ESPN before the start of a new season, to make sure fans are caught up on the team’s history. Those games are still exciting and invigorating for Golden Knights fans, but the movie doesn’t have any new insights about game play or community support during that period.
Angeles throws in interviews with rapper Lil Jon and Vegas icon Wayne Newton along with the more obvious contributors, but “Valiant” doesn’t get into the quirkiness of local fan culture or anything beyond the official narrative. There’s no appearance from, say, beloved canine fan Bark-Andre Furry, and even the Golden Knights’ oddball mascot Chance barely shows up. “Valiant” never feels like a heartfelt tribute from someone who knows the city, although its intentions are noble. If it rarely transcends its status as a corporate promotional product, at least it treats a delicate subject with respect.