Miracle Reviewby Laura Clifford (laura AT reelingreviews DOT com)
February 9th, 2004
Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell, "Dark Blue") lost his bid to be part of the 1960 U.S. Olympic hockey team, but it is 1979 and he believes he can coach a team to compete against the invincible Russians. In Lake Placid the following year, Herb Brooks will deliver a "Miracle."
In 1979, the U.S. was recovering from Vietnam and Watergate, suffering through gas shortages and about to be hit with the Iran hostage crisis. Twenty-five years later, we find ourselves in a similar climate facing terrorism, a war in Iraq and high unemployment rates. "Miracle" would seem to be perfectly timed, a boost for national pride when the country's international reputation has been tarnished. If only the film weren't such a by-the-numbers bore.
After 200 coaches turn down the Olympic job, Herb is delighted to get the offer. He immediately shows his unconventional methods by unilaterally choosing his team on the very first day players hit the tryout ice. When questioned by assistant coach Craig Patrick (Noah Emmerich, "The Truman Show") about his unorthodox selections, Herb replies 'I'm not picking the best players. I'm picking the right ones.' Addressing his team like a dictator, Brooks informs them he will not be their friend and proceeds to play bad cop to Patrick's good.
Brooks proves adept at team building, however. He nips a personal grudge between players Jack O'Callahan (Michael Mantenuto) and Rob McClanahan (Nathan West, "Bring It On") in the bud, challenges goalie Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill, Rachel's boy toy on TV's 'Friends') to greatness in the face of personal crisis and, most of all, imbeds a unique blend of global hockey strategizing and styling within the minds of his athletes. Mike Eruzione (Patrick O'Brien Demsey) becomes team captain after displaying the type of spirit Brooks is after.
Director Gavin O'Connor ("Tumbleweeds") makes an odd transition from indie land into commercial filmmaking, trotting out the tried and true rather than breathing any originality into this Rockyesque tale. He belabors Brooks's character traits, from his need to make up for lost Olympic glory to his incessant repetition of training techniques. The pre-Soviet game montage showcases the players like warriors preparing for battle, with praying and self reflection in the locker rooms. He even unironically includes a "Right Stuff/Armageddon" shot of the U.S. hockey team approaching the ice for the semi-final Soviet match. Yet, even with a blueprint, O'Connor and screenwriter Eric Guggenheim take a few missteps along the way. Ralph Cox (Kenneth Mitchel, "The Recruit") inherits Brook's distinction of being the last player cut from the team, yet the filmmakers fail to make this event resonate like an echo of the past. Mitchel has made the character stand out, yet once he's cut he is never mentioned again. Daniel Stolloff's ("Tumbleweeds") camera gets into the action but he favors shots of body checking and puck-stopping when more use of overhead shots could have revealed game strategy. During the first Olympic game, with mere minutes on the clock, editor John Gilroy ("Narc") cuts to more off ice reactions than on ice action. The filmmakers do do a good job recreating the political environment of the time, using a particularly apt Christmas speech by Jimmy Carter to comment upon their own story.
Sporting a haircut that looks like a hockey helmet and 70's plaid ensembles, Kurt Russell gives a stolid performance as the determined Brooks. He is distant, whether dealing with his players, staff or wife Patty, yet Russell imbues Brooks with the type of American can-do attitude that makes his character more admirable than exasperating. Patricia Clarkson ("Pieces of April"), in the Kathleen Quinlan role, is allowed to question her husband's motivations before acquiescing to his actions. Emmerich has an even more thankless role as the questioning assistant. Of the players, Cahill has the most charisma and Mitchel distinguishes himself from the pack. Mantenuto and Demsey hold their own with high profile characters.
The film concludes with Russell's narration, noting the irony of the so-called Dream Teams populated with professional athletes that become the norm after 1980's Olympic Games. We then learn that the real Brooks died just as production wrapped and though he never saw the film, he 'lived the dream.' You may feel like you've relived the whole thing too, as "Miracle" often feels like an endurance test, but there is no denying the uplifting nature of the event.
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