Miracle Movie Review

You'd have to work extra hard to botch the feel-good story of the underdog U.S.A. hockey team that overcame adversity in the 1980 Olympics and earned an unexpected gold medal. Miracle, which recounts the team's remarkable Olympic run, receives a calculated, polished, and affectionate treatment courtesy of Disney's involvement, but benefits immensely from the casting of relative unknowns in the prime hockey player roles. These actors actually look a lot like kids from Minnesota and Boston. Think how distracting it would be to see Matt Damon as Mike Eruzione or Ashton Kutcher as unflappable goalie Jim Craig.

Miracle's focuses falls heavily on coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell), both in how he chooses his players and how he re-trains them to play his way en route to the winter Olympic games in Lake Placid, N.Y. Brooks preaches team chemistry to his players, but it's the cast that catches on. Miracle isn't a movie of individuals, it's the perfect combination of unknown actors and veteran stars.

The centerpiece is Russell, with his Howard Cosell hairpiece and subtle Great Lakes twang. Can you write a movie about a coach with relying heavily on overdone coaching phrases? If Miracle is an indication, the answer is no. Screenwriter Eric Guggenheim loads Russell's repeated monologues with some of the most clichéd coach speak ever uttered on screen. "The fastest way to make this team is by being fast," Brooks bellows, pulling quotes right out of Vince Lombardi's playbook. "This is something this country is ready for. This is your time." Ugh.

Despite Brooks' pat locker room chatter, the underdog trappings work well in the hands of this scrappy cast. Goalie Jim Craig, played by Friends co-star Eddie Cahill, is the only team member to receive a backstory. The loss of his mother inspires his play, and provides his character with some much-needed depth.

Let's not forget, though, that Miracle is a sports movie at heart, and director Gavin O'Connor lenses some excellent hockey scenes. Guggenheim leads us to believe the Russian national hockey team has the strength and intimidation of every boxer Rocky Balboa ever faced, combined. When we first see the Russians in action, the racing camera shots and speedy edits make the skaters look brilliantly quick.

Guggenheim's screenplay also does a nice job weaving in historical references to offset his on-ice action. We're gently but repeatedly reminded of the odds stacked against our players and our country. The fear generated by the Cold War is ever-present, while the ongoing gas shortage is ever-frustrating. President Bush might inquire if Iraq has a hockey team after watching this film.

The true miracle of Miracle occurs off the ice, though, and it's found in Patricia Clarkson's admirable and extremely likable performance as Brooks' wife. It's a thankless part, one that routinely takes a backseat to Brooks' rousing quest for Olympic gold. But Clarkson gives her clichés life. Her witty bits might be scripted, but she delivers them with such light humor you'd swear she was working off the cuff, improvising with the speed and agility of an Olympic skater.

Disney goes all out on the DVD, two discs jammed with archival material but missing one notable extra: the footage from the actual game in 1980. A commentary track can be found on disc one; disc two offers outtakes and conversations with the actual 1980 hockey players and coach Herb Brooks. Other featurettes cover the difficult task of teaching hockey players to act and additional making-of vignettes.

Go team.


Miracle Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: PG, 2004


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