By Shawn McKenzie 02/10/2004
It’s actually refreshing to review a movie that I couldn’t possibly spoil…unless you lived in a cave. The 1980 USA Olympic hockey win over the USSR is one of those cultural events that traveled over just sports, and believe me…I’m not a sports fan. I’m actually surprised it took over 20 years to come out with a movie about it (aside from a 1981 ABC TV movie called “Miracle on Ice”), but we finally have one, and it is called Miracle.
It’s July of 1979, and the American Hockey Team hadn’t won a gold medal in the Olympics since 1960. In the ‘64, ’68, ’72, and ’72 Olympics, the gold medal had gone to the USSR. The 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, are just around the corner, and they needed a win. The Cold War was in full swing, and a win against the USSR would be considered almost a patriotic statement. Minnesota hockey coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) has an idea on how hey could finally win that he presents to the United States Olympic Committee. He had been cut from the 1960 team as a player, but he thinks he could lead the 1980 team to victory. His idea was to use the Canadian/Soviet method of dogged determination. He didn’t want the “best” players…he wanted the “right” ones. They take him on (after 200 other coaches turn down the job), and he leaves his supportive wife Patti (Patricia Clarkson) and their kids, Kelly (Sarah Anne Hepher) and Danny (Evan Smith), to go to Colorado Springs where he is supposed to pick the team. Amongst the players he picks is goalie Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill), Jack O’Callahan (Michael Mantenuto), Robbie McClanahan (Nathan West), Mark Johnson (Eric Peter-Kaiser), Buzz Schneider (Billy Schneider), and Mike Eruzione (Patrick O’Brien Demsey), who’s eventually named team captain. Assistant coach Craig Patrick (Noah Emmerich) and team physician Doc Nagobads (Kenneth Welsh), both of which seem to act as the good cop to Herb’s bad cop, help him during the seven months he has to develop a well-disciplined and physically fit team. This was despite Craig’s mother dying of cancer two years earlier, bringing him and his father Donald (Malcolm Stewart) closer than ever, and a rivalry between O’Callahan and McClanahan, which Herb nips in the bud. There is a brief bit of doubt after the Soviet team beats the NHL All-Star team three days before the opening ceremony, but the team manages to beat the USSR 4-3 in the Olympics. They use the actual play-by-play coverage of Al Michaels uttering the famous line “Do you believe in miracles?” in the last ten seconds of the game.
I haven’t been impressed with hockey movies in general ever (a guilty pleasure being the Mighty Ducks movies though), but I liked this one. At the press screening I saw, everyone there knew how it was going to end, though they still all cheered when the miracle on ice happened. I even got a little misty-eyed when it happened.
Russell’s last movie, Dark Blue, didn’t impress me, but I liked him in this one. I even believed his thick Minnesota accent. He was able to bring the intensity to the role that it needed.
The one thing that did bug me was that it tried a little too hard to let you know what time period they were in. From the opening collage of news clips to the cultural references spread throughout that had nothing to do with the tension between the USA and the USSR, it was a little bit of an overkill.
Even though you know how it is going to end, I recommend Miracle. We do need good inspirational movies occasionally, and it helps if the tale being told is true. It’s too bad the real Herb Brooks didn’t live to see it himself (he died in a car accident during principal photography of this film), but as the dedication to him during the closing credits said, “He never saw it. He lived it.”
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