Production Company: Walt Disney Pictures
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Principals: Kurt Russell
Rating: PG (mature themes)
By Gregg Tubbs
(UMCom) – “Do you believe in miracles?” With those words, sportscaster Al Michaels announced the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team’s victory over the heavily favored Soviets and gave the surprise triumph the name it would forever be known by—The Miracle on Ice. Miracle, starring Kurt Russell as U.S. coach Herb Brooks, chronicles this unlikely event that helped stir a nation out of a long psychic downslide and renew its collective sense of pride and optimism.
To appreciate how a hockey game could mean so much, you need to understand where America was at the time. In 1980, Iranian revolutionaries were holding 52 Americans hostage at the U.S. embassy in Tehran. The nation was still reeling from the Vietnam War, Watergate, an economic recession and a scarcity of gasoline leading to the infamous gas rationing. In a televised speech, President Jimmy Carter declared that America was experiencing a "crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will."
|Team USA didn’t stand a chance in Ice Hockey against the Soviets at the 1980 Olympic Games, but hard work and perseverance paid off for goalie Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill, pictured) and the team of underdogs. © 2004 Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.|
Against this backdrop, Miracle follows the true story of how former college coach Herb Brooks molds a group of young, inexperienced players—all amateurs—into a gritty, cohesive unit capable of holding its own against the formidable Soviets, world champions for the past 15 years. Brooks may end up coaching for national pride, but he’s also got some personal demons to exorcise. He was a member of the 1960 U.S. Hockey team, but was cut from the team just days before the games. The Americans went on to win the gold—their last. The sting of so narrowly missing his chance at glory has eaten at Brooks for nearly twenty years.
Russell is a marvel as Brooks, giving the best performance of his long, varied career. He’s a tightly coiled, terse, drill sergeant whose hard exterior masks layers of doubt and pain that he must never show his young players. Just watch his eyes and you’ll see his inner struggles. At times, they’re the eyes of an eagle, scanning the action on the rink for clues to the strengths, weaknesses and character of his players. At other times, they’re the heartbroken eyes of a father, who must make hard decisions for the good of his team.
|Coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell, center) is told that his group of college players don’t stand a chance at the 1980 Olympic Games against the juggernaut from the Soviet Union, but the visionary coach leads his underdog team to an improbable victory. © 2004 Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.|
One of those hard decisions is to work them harder and longer than they’ve ever worked before—a decision that he knows might make them hate him, but a choice he can live with. In the beginning, there are personality conflicts and some “old scores” to be settled among the teammates. When asked by an assistant coach why he drives them so hard, Brooks replies, “If they hate me, maybe they won’t have time to hate each other.” Over the grueling seven months of training, the players do bond with each other, and slowly warm up to Brooks as well. This is never overplayed, and even in the end, their coach is more a man to be respected, than loved.
More than anything, the film is a testament to what it takes to beat astronomical odds. It deals honestly with Brooks’ near obsession with building a winning team and the sacrifices he and his players make to face down the Soviets. Brooks sacrifices precious time with his family, while many of the players pass on offers to turn pro (and receive hefty signing bonuses) to compete in the Olympics. We also see that in team sports—like in any shared activity—there is no room for selfishness. They truly become a team when they learn to share, trust and communicate selflessly.
|Olympic Hockey coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell, center) does the impossible as he leads a group of college kids up against the juggernaut from the Soviet Union at the 1980 Olympic Games - leading to the greatest moment in sports history. © 2004 Buena Vista Pictures Distribution.|
Miracle also shows the courage and faith they needed to tackle such a formidable foe. Originally, no one believed they had a chance. Even Brooks had his doubts. But as their showdown with the Soviets approaches and the U.S. team racks up wins in the Olympics early rounds, the media and then America begin to rally around their underdog team. Faith can sometimes be contagious, and when the big match arrives, the team is spurred on by the spirit of the crowd and finds the will to win. Twenty years later, it may be hard to believe a hockey game could mean so much, but this one victory really was an inspiration to a disheartened America and shows how one event can uplift millions. The film is dedicated to Herb Brooks, who tragically died in an auto accident during the making of the film. It’s also a tribute to the twenty young men whose blood, sweat and grit helped us believe again in miracles.
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Gregg Tubbs is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Maryland.