Miracle

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Miracle
Review (6/10)
(By Brendan Cullin)


The story of the 1980 U.S. men's Olympic hockey team is truly one of the most miraculous stories in sports history. The movie Miracle chronicles the events leading up to the hockey team's shocking victory over the powerful Soviet Union team, beginning with the selection of University of Minnesota coach, Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell) as the coach of the team, through the team's unorthodox selection process, the practices, the exhibition games and the legendary game that resulted in Al Michaels's now famous call, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!".

The movie is played against the backdrop of tense political times - the U.S. was in the middle of the Cold War, the Iran hostage crisis, gas shortages - and the Olympic victory was seen as an event that uplifted and united a nation. The victory by the U.S. was voted the single greatest moment in sports during the 20th century by Sports Illustrated. It truly is an example of David defeating Goliath. Herb Brooks assembled a group of rag-tag college students with very little in common except for the shirt that they would pull over their heads and led them to victory over a Soviet team that was considered the strongest hockey team in the world, at the time. Only weeks earlier, this same Soviet hockey team had crushed a team of NHL All-Stars. Brooks was able to put together a group of individualistic hockey players, a characteristic that followed American hockey players for many years - it was always about "me" with the American hockey players - and he was able to get them to play as one, to play as a team with one common goal - to win the gold medal. In modern times, it would be similar to assembling a team made up of U.S. college students and seeing them defeat the Canadian Olympic team, made up of Mario Lemieux, Martin Brodeur, Joe Sakic, Chris Pronger and the likes. It just should not happen. And in reality, it will probably never happen again. Brooks was able to take these young men and make them realize that with a lot hard work and a lot of teamwork, they could win that elusive gold medal. This movie is about the selection and the mental and physical training of the team that went on to defeat the Russians. And more importantly, it is a movie about the complex and unorthodox Herb Brooks.

Miracle does a decent job of portraying the events leading up to and the eventual shocking and historic game. If there is one thing that stands out in this movie, it would have to be the performance of Kurt Russell. From everything I can remember about Herb Brooks, he nailed this role. Although I am too young to really remember Brooks' role in the Miracle game of 1980, I was fortunate enough to follow his coaching career in the National Hockey League (where he coached the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins) and his encore performance as coach of Team USA at the 2002 Olympics. Brooks was a hard-nosed coach who brought the best out of all his players and who also brought creative and revolutionary ideas to the table. Without Brooks behind the bench, this team would not have won the gold medal. Sadly, Herb Brooks was killed this past summer in a tragic single-car accident. People should not forget what he did for his country in 1980 and what he did for hockey as a whole in the U.S.

As for the rest of the movie, well, this was a difficult movie for me to dissect. Although I am a genuine hockey lover, I had a difficult time getting emotionally charged while watching it. Sure, it was great seeing and hearing hockey names with which I am very familiar - assistant coach Craig Patrick (now the General Manager of the lowly Pittsburgh Penguins), Mike Eruzione, who scored the game-winning goal in the Soviet game, goaltender Jim Craig (played by Eddie Cahill who you may know as Rachel's boyfriend Tag on Friends) and a handful of players who went on to have lengthy NHL careers - Dave Christian, Mark Johnson, Ken Morrow, Mike Ramsey. Hell, even some of the Russian players were memorable - Tretiak, Kasatonov, Krutov, Coach Viktor Tikhonov. It was a fun trip down memory lane but being a Canadian and a Canadian hockey fan, I suppose my bias came through watching the U.S. team defeat the Russians. I enjoyed it but it really didn't get my hockey juices flowing. I loved the practice that Brooks put the team through following a embarrassing loss in an exhibition game. It was painful to watch the punishment Brooks put his players through. It was great watching the game with the real ABC commentators, Ken Dryden and Al Michaels (both the audio and visual footage are authentic). I loved Brooks' reaction following the victory. It was fun watching the U.S. win and yes, it was a miracle. But for me, it was not a jump-out-of-your-seat, fist-pumping victory. I also found that the movie didn't do a very good job of allowing us to get close to the players. The only player that any effort was made to show us a non-hockey side was Jim Craig and even then, it was a weak effort.

In the end, although Miracle is a good movie, it is not the great movie that it could have been. Kurt Russell is strong in his role as Coach Brooks. It is interesting watching the events leading up to the historic hockey game (which, for those of you don't know, was not the gold medal game - the U.S. went on to defeat Finland for the gold medal). But I really did not feel the emotional attachment to the movie that Americans, American hockey fans and people who can remember the actual events of 1980 might feel. As a hockey fan, I really did enjoy Miracle but the lack of drama and emotion that I felt while watching one of the greatest moments in sports history made me ready to watch the tape of the Canadian men's hockey victory from two years ago.

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