© 2004 Ray Wong
“If you believe in yourself, anything can happen.” That’s the tagline to Miracle, a true “Rocky-esque” story of Herb Brooks who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, against all odds, to gold.
Let me first come out and say it: I am not a sports fan and I know almost nothing about ice hockey except that it involves a puck, skates and crooked sticks. Nonetheless, in the capable hands of the filmmakers and a brilliant cast, the film held my interest through and through. The message – that an underdog can come out on top – is nothing new here, especially in the context of sports (Rocky, Hoosiers, to name a few). Yet the impact of this message is remarkably potent as we are observing (and for some, reliving) one of the greatest moments in history: A bunch of U.S. college students did the impossible by triumphing over the invincible U.S.S.R. all-star squad. One man’s vision, understanding of the game and determination helped inspire a whole new generation and a country in crisis.
The plot is simple enough. Herb Brooks (Russell), an ex-hockey player who was part of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team, has an obsessive dream for an Olympic gold. But as his wife Patty (Clarkson) puts it, it is a thing he never had and never will. So Herb’s only chance is to coach the Olympic team. The problem is that the U.S.S.R. has dominated the Olympics for 16 years. It is simply impossible. But Herb knows his rivals and believes that he has found a way to beat them. He knows that talent alone is not going to make it. He needs a team, one that will work together like clockwork despite individual abilities and personalities. But as we find out, the road to glory is not a smooth one – our hearts break as the likeable Ralph Cox (Kenneth Mitchell, The Recruit) gets cut from the team. Herb’s hardheaded methods drive the players to realize in their heart and soul that they are indeed one family, one team. With hard work, dedication and faith, the team overcomes personal conflicts, injuries, self-doubts to fully realize the power of ONE.
Director O’Connor (Tumbleweeds) tells a tremendous story with tremendous heart, weaving exciting on-the-ice action with tender personal reflections, and historical events that framed the time period. The tone is nostalgic, and the details put us right back in the late 70s. Completely emerged in the role, Russell is brilliant as Herb Brooks, giving a soul-cleansing performance. Clarkson is, as usual, flawless as Herb’s wise and supportive wife – his guiding light, even if he might not have realized it. The rest of the cast including Emmerich (The Truman Show) and Cahill (Friends) are impressive as well. In particular, Patrick O’Brien Demsey plays captain Mike Erucione with such heart that he reminds us exactly why Erucione was so popular in the first place. O’Connor has the vision to cast real hockey players (including Russell) – some of them have never acted before – and the effort pays off. The well-choreographed action scenes are exciting and authentic – full of intense close-ups and editing – and intimate, sometimes even nauseating (but in a good way). Tremendous research has been done and the sequences are breathtaking. The greatest achievement of the film, however, is that it makes ice hockey exhilarating and understandable even to the non-fans. It is patriotic yet not melodramatic, emotional yet not sappy, inspiring yet not preachy. We all know how this story is going to end. But we are so there when it happens.
Stars: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Sean McCann, Kenneth Welsh, Eddie Cahill
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Writers: Eric Guggenheim
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG for sport action, language and alcohol
Script – 8
Performance – 9
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Editing – 8
Production – 8
Total – 8 out of 10