In this day and age of Duct Tape, "Sexed Up" Dossiers and WMD it's hard to throw yourself back to the "Cold War" and remember what it's like to have an enemy with a face. In the late 1970's and early 1980's the Soviet Union was more than just a page in our History Books, they were the "Evil Empire" (Right or Wrong)! Embargoes caused lines for Gasoline longer than Cyrano's nose; Soviet Expansion seemed unstoppable as tanks rolled into Afghanistan (there's a switch from today); the threat of Nuclear War hung over our heads like the MX Sword of Damocles and American Hockey Fans dreaded the day that our USA Team would have to face off against the Soviet Team, at that time, unquestionably the Best in the world!
Miracle sets up our Zeitgeist for us by flashing our credit sequence over a montage of television and radio of the time, showing just where we were at the time in world politics and why a Hockey game meant so much more than just a Hockey Game! And Miracle is more than just another Sports Movie that you've seen a million times before! Like most of you I've been Jaded by the repetitive nature of Hollywood, giving us the same story over and over again. True, Miracle follows a certain formula, and it's pure red, white and blue, but it's also not condescending or insulting to the old intelligence. If anything, it's uplifting in a legitimate way and portrays all sides as human beings who work hard for what they've gotten. Contrary to the title, Miracle does not depict a miracle! Rather, it shows a group of dedicated Americans working hard to a goal, and actually making it! There are times when Miracle feels like any triumphant film from Rocky to The Mighty Ducks to 8 Mile to Kill Bill, and there are times that some of the characters feel a little thin and underdeveloped. Still with some above average acting, realistic depictions of the game of Hockey itself, a no holds barred approach to the main character, serious accounts of practice and a triumphant punch, Miracle can actually make you stand up and cheer!
Real life USA coach Herb Brooks is portrayed here as being willing to do anything to win the Gold Medal deprived of him as a player back in 1960. He'll push the team to the limit, use psychology, strange tests, and just about anything else he can think of to get his team into shape, even as it puts a strain on his family. Played by Kurt Russell, Brooks comes off as a man passionate about the game, dedicated to his team and family (no small chore) and with enough Minnesooooooooooooooota in his Accent to make Jesse Ventura sound like a Southerner. After barely getting the job, Brooks tackles some incredible odds to put his own hand picked team of amatures (not all-stars) together with their eye on the gold. Like in most Sports movies, things look bleaker than the Mondale/ Ferraro Campaign for a time while Brooks pulls trick after trick out of his hat to motivate the boys. His tactic of making the kids hate him so they won't have time to hate each other works like clockwork until hate turns to a patriarchal love.
How does it turn out? Well if you have to ask, then you didn't pay attention to the title of the film. Seeing a Sports Movie called Miracle and not being able to predict the end is sort of like wondering if the Boat will sink at the end of Titanic, or if there might be some hint of a Bombing in Pearl Harbor! With the possible exception of Cool Runnings, Sports movies don't really get made if they're not about the Winners. The odds seem impossible, and the Hockey choreography is realistic enough to make you root for the team as if you were watching a real game, but there's no real question about the resolution of the film, especially if you watched the news during February of 1980. Still, it's the way that they make it that's amazing, and it's the depth of Russell's portrayal of Brooks that keeps you rooting for him! The odds are stacked as impossible and the hard work and dedication is shown to the point that my muscles were actually sore after the showing!
With an ensemble cast that stretches into the Twenties, it's hard to have a whole lot of Character development, and some of what there is there seems transient and brief. Still you care for the team as a character, and the many faces of that character carry with them the dedication that the real people must have had. Especially shining here is Eddie Cahill ("Tag" from Friends) in his portrayal of Goal Tender Jim Craig. His character gets the most development and pathos, second only to Russell as Brooks himself. Also a stand out is Noah Emmerich of the Truman Show playing Assistant Coach Craig Patrick.
In short, it's hard to imagine director Gavin O'Connor pulling off a better film with the odds against him as they were for Brooks. With such a large cast, Hockey Choreography and historical accuracy to deal with, it was a big job, but one he handles well! Miracle also passes the Kid test! This is definitely a "Feel Good Movie" with a minimum of Profanity and only "Hockey-Style" violence and no nudity or sexual situations (not even a "Sexed Up" Dossier)! My Thirteen Year-Old loved it and was more excited by this film than many before. It's hard to imagine anyone but the world's biggest Cynic not getting something out of this well-made film! For those of you out there who are so cynical you're burned out on the old Red, White and Blue in cinema, let me simply say this:
"USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA USA"Four Stars for Miracle! It might be a formula Sports Film, but, hey, if it really happened this way, why take issue with that? It's a realistic film with heart and fun, and it never once feels like a retread. The Real, Live Herb Brooks died just after Principal Photography completed on this film. While he never saw this (he lived it) I think he'd be pleased as Kelly Rippa on Helium that this is his epitaph!