With live sports on pause and most people stuck at home due to the coronavirus, hockey fans have to find other ways to pass the time. Watching a good hockey movie can certainly help, but the fact is some of us haven't seen the "classic" hockey movies since we were kids.
So how good are they really? Do they actually hold up? With nothing but time on our hands, let's find out.
Every Friday during the pause, I'll have a hockey movie review in which I will watch a movie the night before, take notes and provide those notes and a grade for each movie just to see how good they really are.
You can check out the past reviews here:
The Mighty Ducks
D2: The Mighty Ducks
D3: The Mighty Ducks
Goon: Last of the Enforcers
This week's movie: "Miracle"
If you are going to tell the story of the greatest moment in the history of American sports, you better get it right.
"Miracle" is the story of USA's incredible upset win over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics. The movie focuses primarily on head coach Herb Brooks who managed to coach a team of young amateur players to a gold medal, going through what looked at the time to be an unbeatable Soviet Union team.
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For some background, the Soviet Union was considered easily the best team in the world heading into the Olympics. No one expected much from the US, but after a tie against Sweden in the first game, USA would go on to win every game earning a spot in the medal round. Their first game came against the Soviets, who had beaten the US 10-3 just prior to the games, but the US would pull off the incredible 4-3 upset and go on to beat Finland and claim the gold medal.
It is the greatest moment in US sports history, period. It's no surprise that someone would want to make a movie about it.
They certainly cast the right actor for Brooks. Kurt Russell was incredible as the head coach. The players were also pretty good despite most of them not being very prominent actors. Great care was taken in selecting players who could actually skate and play to make the movie more believable so this was the first major movie for many of them.
For a movie in which any self-respecting hockey fan will go into it knowing how it ends, there is still plenty of tension and drama throughout and the payoff at the end still packs an emotional punch.
Here are my notes from watching:
- The movie begins with a lot of news clips on America. You see news of current events sprinkled in throughout the movie which is important. The win over the Soviet Union is not important because it was a big upset, it was important because of everything else going on in the world. America needed a moment like this and the fact that it came against the nation's greatest enemy at the time made that game the incredible moment that it was. While I would have liked to see just a tad more of the context thrown into the movie, overall it does a good job illustrating why this game mattered and why it was about so much more than just a hockey game.
- "I'm not looking for the best players, Craig. I'm looking for the right ones."
- Former Caps forward Dave Christian is depicted in this movie by Steve Kovalcik. It is not a large role in the movie, but he's there. Christian would go on to play seven seasons with Washington scoring 417 points. The fact that he is not a folk hero and considered among the local sports legends is a travesty.
- I actually did not know Brooks was the last player cut from the 1960 Olympic squad that would go on to win gold until I watched this movie. That must have been brutal and it must have been hard for him to cut Ralph Cox the week before the Olympics too. That was a pretty heavy scene.
- Did you think the portrayal of Broks was a bit over the top? It wasn't. As assistant coach Craig Patrick described, Brooks knew a lot of the players didn't like each other, as illustrated in a fight scene early in the movie, so he wanted the players to unite and hate him instead. To do that and just not lose the locker room entirely, he needed Patrick to be the good cop to his bad cop. Patrick actually played a pivotal role in this team's success despite the portrayal in the movie that makes it look like Patrick was pretty much just along for the ride.
- You probably know about the famous bag skate after the Norway game. That happened. If you want to know more about it, here's an oral history of that night. The rink manager actually did turn the lights out and the team skated in the dark. It did not end with Mike Eruzione yelling that he plays for Team USA, however.
- The movie definitely does a good job of showing how the team bounded over time. It makes an effort to get that point across.
- I love having Al Michaels re-do the commentary for the movie. The iconic call at the end of the game, however, is the original recording.
- The locker room speech will give you goosebumps. What a great speech by Brooks and what a great performance by Russell.
- "Miracle" is hardly the only hockey movie guilty of this, but Hollywood seems to think 95-percent of what a hockey coach does during a game is stand behind the bench yelling "Here we go boys!"
- The movie notes that USA came from behind in every game, but that's actually incorrect. Of the five games the team had played before the medal round, USA went 4-0-1. They came from behind to win or tie four of those games. In a 7-2 win over Romania, however, USA never trailed. But they did trail in every other game including the win over the Soviet Union and Finland in the medal round so it is still very impressive.
- Using actors who could actually skate definitely helped this movie. The play looked very good. Jim Craig was a bit exaggerated -- not every save requires an all-out dive to the ice -- but otherwise the play looked very believable.
- The quiet, solitary celebration by Brooks after the win is an incredible scene. Brooks knew he had to be the bad guy and once he is alone he allows himself a moment to let the emotion go.
- A voiceover finish was a smart move. For those who may not know, the win over the Soviet Union was not for the gold medal. The Olympic tournament at the time did not determine winners in a bracket-style tournament but instead was decided by a round-robin between the top two teams in each division. The head-to-head matchup between divisional opponents counted so teams only got to play two games in the medal round. USA had one point from its tie with Sweden and won gold because it went on to beat Finland in the second game. Had they lost that game, they would have won bronze and the win over the Soviet Union would not be remembered the way it is today. For a movie, however, the USSR game was definitely the climax so you can't have them come back and play another game. It was a tidy way to wrap up the story while not feeling anti-climactic.
- Brooks died in 2003 in a car crash. The movie was released in 2004.
Final Grade A-
Russell knocks it out of the park with his performance and the movie still packs plenty of drama, tension and emotion for a story that most people know the ending to going in. It does all of this while staying largely accurate. If I had one quibble, the movie shows why this win was important beyond just a hockey game, but I am not sure it emphasizes the context enough. If someone who did not live through the Cold War or remember the Soviet Union watched this movie, would they come away understanding why this is the biggest moment in US sports history? I'm not so sure. But that's just my only complaint. The movie is a fantastic depiction of a game every American hockey fan should know.
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