Written by: Eric Guggenheim
Directed by: Gavin O’Connor
Starring: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Sean McCann, Kenneth Walsh
- Running audio commentary by director O’Connor, editor John Gilroy and director of photography Daniel Stoloff
- “The Making of Miracle“
- “First Impressions: Herb Brooks with Kurt Russell and the filmmakers”
- “From Hockey to Hollywood: The Actors’ Journey”
- “The Sound Of Miracle“
- Miracle ESPN roundtable with members of the 1980 team, actor Russell and host Linda Cohn
Released by: Buena Vista Home Video.
My Advice: Sport Fans Should Own, Non-Sport Fans Should Rent.
[ad#longpost]The Soviet Union was the Goliath of ice hockey. They won the gold medal in the 1964, 1968, 1972, and 1976 Winter Olympics and basically dominated the sport. Herb Brooks (Russell) hoped to be their David in the 1980 Olympics. One of the best ice hockey coaches in America, he had in his mind how to shut the Soviet team down, but it was not going to be easy. First, he had stop the Olympic committee second-guessing his every decision. Then he needed players who could play the game and play well as a team. He also knew he was going to push them relentlessly to reach the level of play to beat the Soviets. Of course if he pushed too hard, he could break the team into little pieces. He could also break his marriage with his wife Patty (Clarkson) over his obsession. After a disappointing loss to the Soviets just before the Olympics in an exhibition game, a lesser man would have doubted himself. But Brooks had confidence in his plan and his team. With the blood, sweat, and tears of the American team, the world was able to witness a Miracle.
I admit I’m not interested in sports. Athletics pretty much leave me cold. So I approached this movie with a certain amount of trepidation. However I was pleasantly surprised. While it is by no means perfect, there is plenty here for both hockey fans and non-fans to enjoy. The scenes on the ice get you inside the action, not just watching it from an overhead shot. O’Connor gives you the sense of the speed of the game without leaving you lost in the blur. The best example is the final game between the American and Soviets. Even though you know how it’s going to end, the director cuts from the action to the players on the bench and to the crowd so we can feel the tension and the excitement they’re experiencing so we can share in it. The movie does bog down when O’Connor tries to force the symbolism of the game to match the ebb in the American spirit at the time. Having Brooks talking with his wife and the news breaking in with the start of the Iranian hostage crisis is very obvious. I understand wanting to fit the story within the historical context, but this could have been much subtler.
Kurt Russell is the engine that drives this movie. His willingness to fatten up his chiseled features, sport an unflattering hairdo, and wear ugly plaid pants show the dedication in which he committed himself to this role. You can tell he approached this as an actor, not as a movie star. Russell shows real skill in avoiding having Brooks become a really unlikable character. During the scene where Brooks has the USA team do drills over and over and over again after playing the Norwegians, a lesser actor would have made him look like a total bastard. But Russell keeps Brooks from seeming sadistic. He needs the team to reach a place beyond pain and ego so they can play at the level of the Soviets and you get that he’s trying to pull that greatness out of them. He sees the team gasping, collapsing, and puking their guts out, but he knows they need to go through this to succeed. The other remarkable acting achievement is from the actors who play the American team. While several actors do get a couple of individual spotlight scenes, it’s really the interaction as a team that is impressive. Another director might be tempted to make the team members more diverse or colorful, but that would have missing the point. It was the team that won the gold, not one or two superstars on that team. The USA team members were pretty much the same: a bunch of college kids who loved to play hockey. Getting over twenty guys to act and play hockey together is nearly as extraordinary as what Herb Brooks accomplished.
This DVD is so full of features it needed a second disc to hold them all. There are some obligatory outtakes of the usual flubs and falls you get in the making of a movie. But that’s it only the beginning. Not only is there the main making-of featurette, “The Making of Miracle,” you also get “From Hockey to Hollywood: The Actors’ Journey,” which profiles several of the actors who play members of the USA hockey team and “The Sound Of Miracle” which deals with how the rich aural tapestry for the movie was created. These show the amount of work they went into making the movie authentic to the sport and the people who lived it.
Also included is a round table hosted by Linda Cohn with Kurt Russell and several of the original team members. This is very interesting since you get how things actually happened from the people who were there. You see how the players’ opinion of Brooks has mellowed over time since they can be the method to Brooks’ seeming madness. They also talk about the striking similarities between themselves and the actors, even to the actors calling themselves by their character’s names. Russell also adds to the discussions some of his acting decisions like how he was careful to keep himself isolated from the actors playing the USA team to simulate the coach’s own isolation.
The ‘First Impressions’ featurette is raw footage of Brooks himself, who died shortly before shooting began, discussing his coaching style and his remembrances of that Olympic season. The audio commentary does cover much of the material shown in the featurettes, but O’Connor goes into even more detail, while keeping it from getting dry or boring. You can tell from how O’Connor discusses the effort he put into this movie that it was a labor of love. He wanted this to be something special and not just another sports movie. He and everyone involved is this film definitely succeeded. Miracle is worth watching, so get up and rent it.