Release Date: February 6, 2004
Rating: PG-13 (for language and some rough sports action.)
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Actors: Kurt Russell, Eddie Cahill, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Patrick O'Brien Demsey
Review: Even if you don’t have faith, “Miracle” is sure to make you a believer.
The year is 1979 and America is reeling from a decade of discouragement. The Cold War, Vietnam, Watergate, Love Canal, the recession, gas rationing and the Iran Hostage Crisis – and let’s not forget the death of Elvis – have all contributed to a growing sense of despair. The Winter Olympics are just around the corner, but the U.S. hockey team hasn’t got a prayer of making the quarter-finals, much less getting a medal. The Soviets, who have dominated the sport for years, have just whipped the N.H.L. “dream team” of all-star, pro hockey players, six to nothing.
Enter Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell), a college hockey coach who, as a player, was cut from the 1960 Olympic hockey team just days before the Games, and who now has every intention of winning. The key, Brooks says, is to change the way Americans play hockey. “All star teams fail because they rely on the talents of individuals,” he explains. “By contrast, the Russians have a team mentality.” So Brooks pulls together 20 players, choosing not necessarily the best, but those players he knows will work together on the ice. And, with only seven months to go, he puts them all to work.
“Miracle” is the kind of movie that comes along once in awhile and reminds us just how great sports – and winning – can be, especially when we're the underdog. With echoes of “Breaking Away,” “Rocky” and “Remember the Titans,” Disney’s “Miracle” will show even the non-fan why we love our sports so much. And, like the Lake Placid crowd who started the now-famous Olympic chant, “Miracle” will have you shouting, “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
The screenwriters offer real characters as well as great plot. Russell is phenomenal as the single-minded coach who turns a team of rivals into family by giving them a common enemy – himself. We see the consequences of this obsession on his marriage, however, and the pain that it causes. Fortunately, we also see hope. Brooks makes amends, slowly, and his wife (Patricia Clarkson) forgives him, choosing to stick by him. It’s a realistic yet positive image of marriage we rarely see in film.
We watch the rivalries that morph into a solid bond, and the heartache of goalie Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill), whose mother died the year before he made the team. We see the injuries, the guys who are cut from the team at the last minute – echoing Brook’s own disappointment – and the relentless training required for top-notch hockey players. It is on the ice, however, that most of this film takes place, and it is time well spent. The games are fast-paced and well choreographed. The dialogue is solid, with only a few, mild obscenities and limited drinking. And, would you believe it? The film is still perfectly realistic! Imagine that.
The actors, who are hockey players learning to be actors (not the reverse), pull it off. They have perfect accents – pure “Bahston” and “Minnesooota” – and lots of passion. I loved the scene where team captain Mike Eruzione (Patrick O’Brien Demsey) finally figures out, after a series of exhausting drills, that he plays not for his old college team, but for “the United States of America.” “You can go home now,” Brooks replies, to the immense relief of his weary teammates.
Director Gavin O’Connor (“Tumbleweeds”) sets up the film well, with a newsreel-type montage of photos, footage and voiceovers that recall the historical context. Amazingly, he also manages to sustain suspense, even though we all know the outcome. He shows how the Soviets defeated the Americans just three days before the Olympics, although he does omit their previous 10-3 victory 10 days before the Games, which heightened the seeming impossibility of triumph. When victory does come, we see the success of Brooks’ strategy, and we see what a hero he really was – a fitting tribute to the coach who died while the film was being made.
Like all good films, “Miracle” also gives us something to think about. After all, 1980 was one of the last amateur hockey teams to play in the Olympics. We are left wondering why we ever allowed professionals to dominate so many Olympic sports – a contest that was created to honor those who play not for money, but for the sheer love of the game. As Brooks quips, “The problem with the dream team is, you never get the dream.”
Those of us who remember sitting in front of the television watching this amazing game, way back in 1980, will get a particular thrill at being taken back to that joy-filled moment. Those who do not will still experience a shiver when ABC sportscaster Al Michaels shouts, “Do you believe in miracles?!” just seconds before the stunning upset.
It was, as the narrator says, a chance to believe once again. And that’s something we all need, perhaps today more than ever.