Miracle Review

by Jon Popick (jpopick AT sick-boy DOT com)
February 9th, 2004

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It would be damn near impossible to screw up a story about the US hockey team's run at the gold in the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. Not even with Ron Howard directing brother Clint from an Akiva Goldsman script - that's how good the story is. It's one of those deals where you'd never believe it in a million years if it hadn't already happened...kind of like Seabiscuit.
Gavin O'Connor's Miracle could, technically, be mentioned in the same breath as Seabiscuit, but people would, at least in a month or two, probably look at you like you had leeches coming out of your ears if you did. Seabiscuit is a film with a capital F. Miracle is a television movie projected onto a big screen (though I'm sure it's much better than the actual made-for-television version with Karl Malden and Steve Guttenberg from 1981).

The comparison is still worth mentioning because of the eco/socio/political climate that existed at the time both films took place. Seabiscuit gave the country something to cheer on during very rough times. Likewise, the men of Miracle temporarily lifted the spirits of a country mired in a grim economic nightmare that threatened to throw the US behind those damn Soviets in the Cold War's arms race. Would the Olympic Games have been as memorable if the Americans had won the gold without playing the USSR? Would it merit its own film if the US beat the Soviets in group play but lost every other game at the Olympics? Probably not. But Soviet Defeat + Gold Medal =

Credit is due to both the painstaking recreation of the Olympics clashes, which I'm guessing went the extra mile to be as accurate as possible (which can't be easy to do on ice), and Kurt Russell's performance as the late Herb Brooks, the team's coach. Russell (Dark Blue) becomes Andy Sipowicz with Howard Cosell's hair and the wardrobe of that guy who sold my dad the used Mercury Cougar that constantly overheated. I have no idea how much debut screenwriter Eric Guggenheim played with reality, but Brooks comes off as the Nostradamus of hockey, picking his roster on the first day of tryouts, before most of the players had a chance to break a sweat. If Brooks farted in the locker room, Guggenheim makes it look like some genius coaching technique to inspire the team.

Even though Guggenheim frantically pushes all of the usual sports cliché buttons, it's hard not to get choked up during certain parts of Miracle, even if you're a cynical prick (like me). I could have done without his constant insertion of News of the Day (the opening credits, which gave us a nostalgic look at the '70s, was plenty), and the scenes between Brooks and his wife (Patricia Clarkson, Pieces of April), who offered a highlight reel of inspirational quotes that pulled Brooks back down to Earth whenever he needed grounding. Noah Emmerich (Beyond Borders) may as well have been replaced with a coat rack, and Miracle glosses over the gold medal match against Finland like it never happened.

That's because Miracle is all about the "private Cold War" between the US and Soviet teams, which was, quite literally, boys playing against men (the Bad Guys had won the last four Olympic golds). Brooks' key to winning was creating a team, not a bunch of individual superstars. And here, the actors on the team do fairly well for a bunch of hockey players. The only recognizable player/actor is Eddie Cahill as goalie Jim Craig, which makes it easier to slap a Jason mask on a real goalie during the game scenes.
2:15 - Rated PG for language and some rough sports action

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