Miracle Review

by Matt Noller (imgiphted AT bellsouth DOT net)
February 9th, 2004

Rating: *** (out of ****)
A film review by Matt Noller

In February of 1980, Americans sat around their televisions to watch a hockey game. It was the Winter Olympics, and the U.S.A. was facing off against the seemingly unbeatable Soviet Union. For some, this will be a day remembered forever, as the upstart American team defeated the Soviets in an incredible upset. For others, it will survive as nothing more than a footnote in history.

Nevertheless, the U.S.A.'s victory served as a step forward in the Cold War. At a time when many Americans were losing hope in their country and the world, the Miracle on Ice, as it became known, served as a reminder that life could still be good. It jumpstarted faith in our country and, surprisingly, in the war effort, as it was proven that the Soviets could be defeated. Miracle is the film adaptation of this event.

Here is a sports film that isn't about individual players, the team, or even the sport. It is partially about the Miracle and partially about the social climate of the era. But mostly it is about coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell), the man who took a group of young unknowns and turned it into the best hockey team in the world. A former Olympic hopeful, cut from the team at the last minute, Brooks now wants nothing more than to lead a team to glory. To do this, he creates a team of, as he puts it, "Not the best players; the right players." He wants them to act like, and play like, a family. To do this, Brooks acts like a dictator, forcing his players to work well past their breaking point. He is not their friend, he is their coach. The friend part is left to assistant coach Craig Patrick (Noah Emmerich), who treats the players with respect. But we sense that Brooks loves his players more than he would ever let on; his plan is simply to let their hate for him unite them as a team.

The players on the team are either anonymous or recognizable by a few characteristics. They include goal tender Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill), Jack O'Callahan (Michael Mantenuto), and team captain Mike Eruzione (Patrick O'Brien Demsey). The most important players are roughly defined, but not really developed; we like them, but never really get to know them. This is the film's only real failing, but it is understandable. It would be unfair to expect an entire team of hockey players to be fully fleshed out.
And besides, any of those flaws are easy to forgive once the twenty-minute recreation of the actual game rolls around. It is an extraordinary cinematic achievement, and director Gavin O'Connor should be praised for pulling off such a tough job so admirably. There are no fancy camera tricks, just excellent cinematography and well-photographed action. Somehow, O'Connor has managed to make the game truly compelling and suspenseful even though everyone already knows how it's going to turn out.

Kurt Russell, quite possibly the most underrated actor working today, is exceptional as Brooks, inhabiting the man he is portraying. There is none of Russell here, just the character, and his performance is captivating. Patrica Clarkson manages to bring quiet dignity to the underdeveloped and unneeded role of Brooks's wife. The actors playing the players, all unknowns, are convincing.

MIracle is dedicated to Brooks, who died in a car crash shortly after principle photography finished. "He never saw it," we are told, referring to the film, "he lived it." Miracle is a fitting tribute to the legacy of this extraordinary man.

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