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Kurt Russell is no stranger to Disney. Since the late 60s, he joined the Disney Studios and acted in many films including The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit, The Barefoot Executive, Superdad, etc. He even lent his voice to Disney’s The Fox and the Hound. Heck, when Walt Disney died, legend states that the last words he left were “Kurt Russell” which he had scribbled onto a piece of paper!
So, I’m kinda surprised that I’m only now reviewing a Kurt Russell film on this blog. To top things off, it’s one of his later Disney appearances! That said, it’s not a bad film to start with either.
Based on the true story of the “Miracle on Ice” event that took place during the 1980 Winter Olympic Games, Miracle introduces a new generation to this phenomenon. Without any further ado, let’s take a look at Miracle.
And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!
The opening credits play to a quite well-made montage of events showing how America was changing in the 1970s. Some of the events seen includes the Vietnam War, Watergate Scandal, 26th Amendment, women’s lib movement, video games being prominent, the 200th birthday of the USA, energy crisis, Elvis’ death, etc. It was basically a time when America was looking for, or perhaps, needed a miracle.
We then cut to Herb Brooks, played by Kurt Russell.
Herb is an ice hockey coach who’s been assigned to coach the American team competing in the 1980 Winter Olympics. The Americans are the underdogs with the champions being the Soviets who have won the gold medal for ice hockey in every Winter Olympics since 1964. Herb is determined to do all he can to make sure that the American team wins or at least presents a challenge, despite most of the hockey bigwigs frowning upon his psychological methods of coaching.
Soon, tryouts are being held in Colorado in which 26 guys (out of the hundreds who show up) will be selected to join the American team. As time goes by, 6 of these players will be dropped, since the rules say that the team can only have 20 players.
As Herb tries to train the boys with the help of his assistant coach, Craig Patrick, played by Noah Emmerich, the boys have to learn how to put away their past differences, rivalries, and even allegiances to become Team USA. He trains them harder than they’ve ever been trained before sometimes bordering on nigh tyrannical methods.
Let me just take a moment to talk about these boys. There are too many of them to name, mention, or even go into their personal side stories in this review. But one thing that popped up in my research was that these boys were chosen primarily for their hockey skills rather than their acting skills and I think this shows. I’m not saying that they’re horrible actors; I’m just saying that it’s pretty evident that for some of these guys, this is the first (and maybe even only) movie that they’ve ever been in. You can see the amateur dramatics of it all. And although this makes the film lose some points in the acting department, this is not necessarily a bad thing.
This film is a hockey film. Hockey is the primary goal. It’s not meant to be a film with Shakespearean drama, Agatha Christie suspense, and Nicholas Sparks’ romance. This is a sports film, first and foremost, and we shouldn’t forget that.
Anyway, the training goes as good as it can, but the boys aren’t giving their 100% to the game. This is evident when they lose a game in Norway to the opposing team and are mostly interested in the hot blonde Norwegian girls in the audience. To discipline the boys, Herb does something that became famously known as Herbie’s Day. After the game is over, Herb showcases one of his nigh tyrannical methods by forcing the boys to skate back and forth between opposing lines on the hockey rink (correct me if I’m wrong, hockey fans).
He has them do this over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over…Herb actually gets the keys to the rink from the guy who’s supposed to clean the rink because it’s so late. Nevertheless, Herb keeps pushing the boys to do these exercises even if some of the boys look like they’re going to die. It’s quite an uncomfortable scene to watch and even Coach Patrick starts to show some hesitance in helping Herb with this.
The whole ordeal ends when after hours of this, one of the players announces his name and shouts that he’s playing for the United States of America. I’m not sure how the player came to the conclusion that that was what Herb was looking for. Maybe Herb just wanted these boys to remember who they represent during these troubling times. Or maybe Herb is teetering on a level of madness and genius, I don’t know. In real life, the skating exercises actually ended when one of the normally mild-mannered players broke his stick on the glass in rage.
Anyway, as the months go by, the boys start working better together as a team and becoming the hockey team that Herb wants them to be. Meanwhile, Herb deals with keeping the boys in line, cutting his team down to the required 20, and balancing his home life especially his relationship with his wife, Patti, played by Patricia Clarkson.
Herb’s team even plays an exhibition game against the Soviets in Madison Sqaure Garden, which the Soviets, not surprisingly, win. Things aren’t really looking good for them for the actual Olympic games.
Good thing we don’t have to wait long, as soon it’s time for the Winter Olympics which are taking place in Lake Placid, New York, this year. Everyone is nervous, but the Americans prove themselves to be championing underdogs when they tie the Swedes and beat the Czechs, Norwegians, Romanians, and West Germans. Soon it’s time to play the Soviets, this time for the real thing!
The game is an intense one and one that everyone is holding their breath over. The Soviets are looking to keep their reputation as the best hockey team while the Americans are both hopeful and frightful about how they’ll perform against the Soviets.
The game is an exciting one to watch and the Soviets lead the sore 3-2 in the second period. But in the third period, the Americans make 2 more goals. With only a matter of seconds left before the time runs out, the Soviets try desperately to win, or at least tie the game, but the buzzer sounds as famed sportscaster, Al Michaels, utters his famous line, “Do you believe in miracles? YES!”.
When the buzzer sounds, the Americans have beat the Soviets 4-3. The Soviets are flabbergasted and disappointed at this while the Americans are overjoyed! Everyone from the American team to the citizens to Herb Brooks himself sees this as a victory! Some look at this at not just a hockey win, but a defeat of communism by capitalism. Because of this victory, the American team eventually wins the gold medal for ice hockey that year. The movie ends with a montage of all the actors in the movie and what their corresponding hockey player persona is up to now.
And that was Miracle! I’m not much of sports guy, hence I don’t know much about hockey nor do I watch many sports movies, but out of all the ones that I’ve seen, this has always been my favorite!
The way that we see the hockey team develop under the watchful eye and training of Herb Brooks creates a story that the moviegoer wants to see. The way that we, in the 21st Century, are shown all the goings-on in American during the 1970s is done quite well to give us an understanding of what this game really meant to the average American at the time. And Kurt Russell plays Herb Brooks remarkably! I’d rank him along with Emma Thompson and James Mason in terms of best Disney live-action performances.
However, I can’t say that this movie isn’t without its faults. While Kurt Russell was a superb actor in this film, most everyone else wasn’t as I mentioned earlier about the actors who played the hockey players. Also I can’t say that the flow of the movie was perfect. I felt some scenes were unnecessary and some were focused on for too long or too short of a time.
But, that’s not to say that this film is in any way, bad. What else can I say? Kurt Russell and Disney go well together…at least in this film!
(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)
So, the final score for this film is 27/35 = 77.14% (C+) !
The next review will be posted on September 7th.