Miracle Reviewby Jonathan Moya (jmoya AT cfl DOT rr DOT com)
March 11th, 2004
A review by Jonathan Moya
Herb Brooks: Kurt Russell
Jim Craig: Eddie Cahill
Jack O'Callahan: Michael Mantenuto
Mike Eruzione: Patrick O'Brien Dempsey
Ralph Cox: Kenneth Mitchell
Rob McClanahan: Nathan West
Craig Patrick: Noah Emmerich
Mrs. Brooks: Patricia Clarkson
Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Gavin O'Connor. Written by Eric Guggenheim. Running time: 135 minutes. Rated PG (for language and some rough sports action).
Miracle another live-action vehicle from the Disney Studio brand is for the most part an enjoyable underdog to champion tale, except for the time it needs to stretch for diversity.
In the mainly white bread sport of hockey this is kind of like looking for raisins in a hill of bleached flour-- it just isn't in the mix. Still the screenwriter manages to find it, just barely, in that deep seated hatred between Minnesota puck players and Boston hockey goons.
Never heard of it? Neither have I, until I saw this film-- and let me say that I am personally glad to know that there are several hundred miles and at least a dozen states between Massachusetts and Minnesota, otherwise we have two places full of nothing but blind, toothless, wheelchair- bound hockey fans.
Essentially, Miracle is The Mighty Ducks on steroids and without the fun-- a square-jawed republican movie with a few democratic asides. Throw away the Herb Brooks role and it can be called "D4: Go for the Gold".
The writer, Eric Guggenheim, wisely concentrates Miracle on the Herb Brooks story- the tale of a man obsessed with the idea of acquiring the glory he was denied as a youth. Brooks was cut from the 1960 US Olympic hockey team just two weeks before that squad started its gold medal run. Ever since, Brooks has been coaching college champions and quietly bidding his time until Olympic glory calls again.
Twenty years later, the call comes and Brooks, his scheme in place to beat the mighty Russians (who haven't lossed in almost sixteen years), eagerly goes about building his perfect team. He plans to beat the cool, efficient, fast, and high endurance Soviet behemoths by creating an equally fast and long lasting squad that (since this is a Disney film) is warm and fuzzy and smiles while it checks you into the boards and out skates your ass.
Part of the fun of this kind of movie is watching the process unfold. Here the stakes are higher, because the Russian hockey team was clearly superior to everything out there. They mercilessly pummeled a team of NHL all-stars and probably would have won the Stanley Cup if they had been allowed to compete. These Russian bears were clearly bad news.
Brooks slices and dices, analyzes and dissects, so much film and Soviet play book that he practically eats, sleeps, and speaks Russian. He drills and redrills. In one particularly brutal scene, he has the squad run endless blue line sprints long after the game is over, the crowd has left, the janitor has gone home and the lights have been turned off. When an out of breath Mike Eruzione (Patrick O'Brien Dempsey) responds to Brooks question "Who do you play for?" with a long and shouted "United States of America!", it is one of the great patriotic moments ever in any sports movie. Better conditioned and better prepared, the US hockey victory was neither surprise nor miracle, but quite simply one of the better planned sneak attacks in all of sports history.
The concentration on Brooks obsessive quest to beat the Russians gives Miracle a personal side that allows it to overcome it schmaltzy under story. Brooks was a quiet, but highly coiled person, who showed only ten percent of what he was feeling. Kurt Russell portrays him with the same obsessive quality but layers underneath it a little bit of gambler's bluff. This Minnesota gopher always had another emotional ploy or play in reserve, and knew how to pull the hat trick when the time came. The essence of Herb Brooks the man is him alone in a stadium hallway quietly sobbing like a baby after his team's big victory.
The director Gavin O'Connor populates Miracle with hockey players that can give the brusque, gee-whiz performances that the plot requires. Eddie Cahill as the goalie Jim Craig, projects the aura of a young Mel Gibson, especially when he mangles his Boston accent to something sounding north of Sydney Australia. Craig is the only character in Miracle who suffers a real tragedy (his mom passed away), and Cahill portrays him with a gruff intensity that makes you think he could be a young Herb Brooks.
O'Connor shoots the hockey scenes in the slightly overexposed tones associated with live television, and cuts it all together with the quick, brawling, timing that real hockey has. This is a competently made movie that knows how to shoot straight goals to the heart. It might not make you believe in Miracles, but it could possibly make you want to go to a hockey game.
Copyright 2004 Jonathan Moya
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