Over the last 24 years, a lot in the world has changed, but some things have not - Americans still love to see big, silent Commies get their asses kicked. So, it was almost inevitable that one of the most memorable spectacles of American sports, the defeat of the Soviet hockey team in the 1980 Olympics, get made. Miracle is that movie.
Titled after the sound bite made by announcer Al Michaels, Miracle stars Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks, the intense coach who shaped a bunch of young and talented players into the underdog team that won the gold medal. Russell gives one of his best performances ever. He received praises for his performance in 2002's Dark Blue, and he is receiving them here - for good reason. He commands every scene he is in without ever appearing over-the-top; he blends in as a real person yet seems like something more.
Aside from Russell, there are plenty of good things to speak about regarding Miracle (which sets it apart from Dark Blue). The movie moves along consistently, blending the typical work-them-til-they-drop training scenes with more touching light drama, which basically revolves around Brooks' relationship with his wife (played by this year's Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson). In the scheme of things, the plot varies little from other sport films (recruit them, train them and win in underdog fashion), but Miracle, for some reason, works especially well. Perhaps it is the fact that this is a true event - and a major one in terms of the Olympics - or perhaps it just has everything going for it. The script is amusing but does not try to be comical the way other team movies go, where there are typically a bunch of misfit players that surprise everyone. No, this story has a bunch of well-crafted but unproven athletes leading the way, and it is a fresh change of pace.
One great thing about Miracle is that, while it is trying to be more than just a sport movie, it does not forget that it is about hockey. There are plenty of good hockey sequences, and the final game (which is actually the second-to-last game the Americans played) is a killer. Somehow, despite the fact that we all know how it ends, Miracle is still extremely exciting, even suspenseful.
The movie obviously will appeal to Americans most, as it portrays every player as fun and courageous while the Soviets barely get to say a word (though the stereotypical scowling gets used quite a bit). Anti-American sentiment is up right now and so this movie will surely not be as accepted in other parts of the world, but personally I was expecting much more flag-waving then there is. Though I was not alive when this game took place, I do believe that the amount of "U.S.A." chanting has not been exaggerated for the sake of exaggeration; Miracle is a movie about American winners.
There are a few cheesy moments after the victory, but Miracle holds its own for the most part, avoiding too much patriotism and too much sentimental garbage.
By the time December 2004 comes around, Miracle will be remembered as a good sports movie and not much else, but with Kurt Russell delivering one of his finest performances to date, and with an intense look at the training and games of 1980, it may very well be a little more than just that.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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