Wednesday, February 5, 2014
(February 2004, U.S.)
Once again, outrageous coincidence takes form on this blog of mine. The first is that Disney's MIRACLE was released ten years ago this month (tomorrow's date, actually). The second is that with the 2014 Winter Olympics ready to kick off (also tomorrow) in Sochi, Russia, what better way for us to get into the spirit of things than to discuss a film that glorifies the United States gold medal victory in men's ice hockey over the Soviet Union during the Winter Games of 1980 in Lake Placid. That great victory was dubbed the "Miracle On Ice". For those who are too young to be familiar with this piece of sports history, it was highly significant because at that time the Soviet Union was being heavily criticized for its recent invasion of Afghanistan. The United States was also suffering the pain and anguish of the recent American hostage crisis in Iran. So while victory and justice may not have always seemed within arms reach in the world of politics and war, it was something a little more attainable in the world of international Olympic competition.
Kurt Russell plays the late Herb Brooks, head coach of the men's hockey team that took the gold medal. Even before getting into this wonderfully motivating sports film, I have to say that Russell nails this role perfectly with the spirit and mannerisms of Brooks himself. Sadly, his performance was ignored for an Oscar nod, and quite frankly, it shouldn't have been! From the very beginning, the story almost plays out like the premise of THE DIRTY DOZEN (1967), in which a hard-ass leader is faced with the task of putting together a team of fighting men from a group of mere unknown misfits. Like just about any other role of coach in any sports film, Brooks wants to see his team win, and win big. However, in a rather interesting twist, he makes it clear to his men that he's not there to be their friend. He's a motivator, a pusher, a dictator, and in some cases, a real asshole! Just watch how he continuously pushes these would-be champions to the brink of madness when in a fit of discouraging anger, he forces them to skate at top speed from one line to another, constantly lecturing them and shouting "Again!" in the process. It would seem that a victory we already know will happen (based on history) doesn't come without a painful price.
Beyond the point of cliche in which sports films play out in similar fashion, it's almost critical to take serious note of just what sort of hockey film MIRACLE is. I mean, let's face it - hockey hasn't exactly been covered too heavily on the big screen. Sure, maybe you're seen SLAP SHOT (1977) enough times to quote just about every dirty line that comes out of Paul Newman's mouth and perhaps you've even watched a MIGHTY DUCKS movie with your kids. Director Gavin O'Connor stays dedicated to the spirit of the sport, first by casting hockey players who can act and not the other way around. Sure, Paul Newman might have skated well back in '77, but would that have been particularly realistic by today's standards? And unlike watching a professional hockey game on TV where the cameras are positioned outside of the game, this film puts you right on the ice with the players with cameras that are right on the ice with them. One can only picture in their minds the tedious effort required keeping a camera moving in excess of thirty miles an hour to keep up with a professional hockey player.
For myself, as one who has grown up with his fair share of inspirational sports films that include baseball, football, boxing and even bicycle racing (BREAKING AWAY), I can only say that MIRACLE achieves a spirit unlike other films because ultimately the victory is not about personal achievement, but one that brings an entire team of men and the country they represent together as one. Like any other country, Americans love to win the big one at the Olympics. As a viewer of film, I still can't help but put a big smile on my face when watching the American team defeats a country that was once our enemy and listening to the voice of Al Michaels of ABC Sports immortalize these words, "Five seconds left in the game! Do you believe in miracles?! YES!!!"
It's moments and words like that, that keep the spirit of American Olympic victory fresh in our minds and hearts and what makes MIRACLE one of my favorite sports films of all time.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Herb Brooks: "One game. If we played 'em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we skate with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, WE are the greatest hockey team in the world. You were born to be hockey players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It's over. I'm sick and tired of hearing about what a great hockey team the Soviets have. Screw 'em! This is your time! Now go out there and take it!"