Time: 125 mins.
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion that the filmmakers of MIRACLE capitalize on wholeheartedly in bringing this astounding sports story to the big screen. Produced by Disney, I expected a somewhat sanitized and sanctified version of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey teams' journey from shame to triumph, but that still didn't stop me from plunking down my cold hard cash. There's just something about reliving a wondrous moment from your youth that's an undeniable draw. I was 11-years-old at the time of the "Miracle on Ice" and I have to admit I didn't see the game between the USA and Russia. In fact, I don't even like hockey, but you better believe that my butt was in front of the television the following evening to watch our boys go for the gold. It was that important. Everyone, even little girls, watched that final game. Their run was infectious, making it seem like all of us had a stake in the outcome. Of course, that's what makes the Olympics so entertaining and entrancing. For one brief period every four years our nation's best athletes play to please us and to prove they're the best in the world and their sacrifices and hopes spirit us along for the ride.
In the instance of the particular story unraveled here, we not only get the glory of the Olympics, but a true David beats Goliath tale that is unparalleled in sports history. The Russian team had won the gold medal at the last four Olympics and had dominated every team in the world for decades. Our team was made up of talented college players who only had nine months to prepare for the biggest two weeks of their careers. Sure many of them had won the national championship, but the Olympics are a whole different ballgame. What they go through at the hands of their brilliant, yet brutal coach is extraordinary and clearly the reason why they made history. Kurt Russell gives an astounding performance as Herb Brooks, a man determined not to repeat his past who pushes himself and his players to heights most of them never dreamed they could reach. His unorthodox methods did not make him popular with the team or the administration, but if not for his radical approach to the game mixing the American and Canadian styles with a little Russian thrown in we would not have made the medal round. As the film goes on, it's clear these young men had no idea what they were in for, but Brooks punishing physical and mental tests turned them into skating machines and an indestructible team.
While the basis for their training is most likely true, there are obvious "movie moments" thrown in to sweeten the emotions or to get a laugh. Theses flashes of cuteness and melodrama kind of distract from the honesty of the piece, but thankfully they are kept to a minimum. This is a story that needs little embellishment to be entrancing because, though the outcome is known, we finally get to see what went into making this historical upset happen. The best parts of the film take place on the ice, giving us an up close and personal look at what it feels like to be a hockey player. It's a demanding and brutal sport and every body check reverberates through your own skin. Though Brooks made a concerted effort not to befriend his players, Russell's complex portrayal illuminates the deep connection and admiration he had for these boys. What drove Brooks was his desire to win and it's that spirit, engrained hard in their minds and bodies, that enabled them to overcome their fear and fight hard every game until the final buzzer. Is this film hokey and overly patriotic? Absolutely. But it also happens to be true and you'll find yourself cheering for them even though you know they're going to win.
The film tries, but doesn't exactly succeed in giving these events their proper historical context, but I'm not sure that really matters. Those of us who lived through the turmoil of the 70s already know what went on and those born in the 80s and beyond probably don't care about the politics of the Cold War. Ultimately, this is a film about perseverance, self-sacrifice and making dreams come true, ideas we can all relate to. It's a story that transcends sports and makes us all believers in the triumph of the human spirit. If hockey games were presented in the in-your-face style portrayed here, the NHL would have a lot more fans. I didn't understand the game any better, but it sure was exciting to watch. This is not your everyday sports story (and certainly not the best sports film), but it's an inspirational and entrancing tale, much like THE ROOKIE and SEABISCUIT, that every member of the family will enjoy. Russell gets part of the credit, however, you can't really go wrong when you're telling the story of one of the greatest moments in sports history. At least from the American point of view.