United Skates of America
First up I like "Miracle" it is a thoroughly entertaining movie, a classic underdog story as it recreates the true story of the 1980 Olympics where the USA ice hockey team under the guidance of Herb Brooks defeated the unstoppable Soviet team. But as an Englishman in the UK it has to be said that for me it is all "Miracle" is, a very well made underdog story, told from the perspective of Herb Brooks and taking us through his singled minded devotion to making the USA team the best they could be. Yet I am positive that not only will many Americans enjoy the patriotic elements more but I am sure those who are old enough to remember the atmosphere of the time and remember the 1980 Olympics will find it a much more touching and personal movie.
After years of failure against the unstoppable Soviet Ice Hockey team, the USA employ University of Minnesota head coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell - 3000 Miles to Graceland) to take over despite his radical plan to change the way the squad train and play. And it doesn't take long for Brooks to upset his superiors when during a week long series of tryouts he selects his preliminary 26 players after just the first day. And it's not just his superiors he upsets as over the months his strict training regime, forcing the players to run drills again and again causes animosity. But slowly things slide into place for the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid where Herb and his squad get to face the mighty Soviet's in a now legendary medal's game.
It has to be said that "Miracle" is a fascinating movie because whilst telling this true story basically from coach Herb Brooks' side of things doesn't just feel like it is all about him. And I say fascinating because whilst most of the team are little more than players on the ice we feel for them not only championing them to win but also to get through Brooks' demanding training. Basically we get to see the various issues which Herb Brooks faced both within the team and outside and we get to warm to these players as they become a family. And in a way this is part of the reason why "Miracle" works for those who don't remember the 1980 Olympics, it allows us to be come one of the team but also part of the coaching team.
But there is more to "Miracle" than just the way it connects we also get to understand a lot about coach Herb Brooks and why he is not only so tough on the players but so single minded. We basically get to understand him as the movie goes on; we understand that his own history as a player causes him to push his team harder than ever making them do drills again and again. Yet we also understand why, we understand why he tries to break them and rebuild them not so much into a team but a family. And as such there are numerous powerful scenes none more so than after the practice game in Oslo where he forces the team to do the drill again and again until they can take no more, getting his message through in a form of a lesson combined with punishment.
And we also see how Brooks' single mindedness affects his life, his relationship with his wife and also how he upsets the management of Team USA. But we also see how those around him come to understand him, how assistant Coach Craig Patrick thinks he is bordering on lunacy as he drills the team again and again struggling with having to give his orders but then coming to realise what he was achieving by making them go through this punishment.
All of which is basically just the training which it has to be said dominates the movies 135 minute running time. But then of course you have the actual games at the 1980 Olympics and 20 minutes of what has been often referred to as "Miracle on Ice" as the USA team face the Soviets in a medal match. So "Miracle" is a true story so the outcome is well known but what is so good about these 20 minutes of game is that director Gavin O'Connor makes it exciting. The tempo of the action is brilliant, the shots on goal are exciting, the bodies crashing into the sidings shocking and the actual footage doesn't feel staged. Add to that the use of original commentary and you have an experience which makes you feel like you are there and part of that extraordinary night.
Now whilst there are various characters in "Miracle" such as Craig Patrick played by Noah Emmerich and goalie Jim Craig played by Eddie Cahill the movie does centre on Coach Herb Brooks and so rests heavily on the shoulders of Kurt Russell. Now I know barely anything about the real Herb Brooks and so to say how authentic Russell is in looks or style is not for me to say. But I can say that Russell delivers one of his finest performances because he becomes a character leaving all his own traits behind. It makes "Miracle" work because you never think that you are watching Kurt Russell act but watching this man Herb Brooks who is so focussed it is at times a little scary.
What this all boils down to is that for me "Miracle" is a very entertaining under dog story based on the true story of Herb Brooks and the 1980 Olympics. It's classic under dog story in style and for those who enjoy this sort of entertainment will not be disappointed. But I am sure that for those who remember the emotion of the 1980 Olympics and what the USA Ice Hockey team achieved under Herb Brooks' guidance will find some deeper connection to it.