Miracle (2004)

miracle_05It’s one of the most amazing stories in sports, the stuff that legends are made of, and it’s a riveting underdog tale whether you’re sports fan or not. The king was dead, there was an oil crisis and the nation was basically in turmoil, until the story of this one Olympic hockey team took the world by storm and gave the nation just a little hope that is sorely was in need of. I’m what people call “Not a sports fan” (made that up myself), so it’s never usually on my list of things to do when sports movies come out, but for “Miracle” I was intrigued. Simply for the fact that this wasn’t just a sports story, it was an underdog tale, a tale of hope in a time without it, and a tale of people coming together to take on their enemy on the ice.

This wasn’t just a hockey game, it was a war being waged on that ice rink, and we won. And that’s a pretty damn good story of patriotism. In the big screen presentation of the fateful tale of the Olympics of 1980 where a group of young men from rival colleges were brought together to form the ultimate US team. With odds hopelessly stacked against them going up against the undefeated Russian Olympics team, they pulled off a feat and won the gold medal. The defeat of the Russian team was a complete shocker in the sport world since it seemed no one would be able to defeat the Russians, but what’s just as much as a feat is how good this film is.

Though, upon first glance the film might seem like a clone of “Remember the Titans”, “Miracle” is a lot more with an actual heart to its storytelling. Director Gavin O’Connor has the immense and daunting task of overtaking a story such as this with such an epic arc, but he manages to handle it with a lot of skill method. The film has a light blue tint which helps to create the sort of cold world the hockey players live in and we get to feel what they feel when they’re out on the ice. A lot of the major hockey sequences are well choreographed and are just beaming with excitement as we watch the players’ views as they drill through the ice, not to mention the amount of originality O’Connor brings to the action sequences.

Now no amount of gratitude can be expressed for the studios and producers choosing to go for unknown actors and real hockey players for the pivotal roles of the hockey team than going with big name stars. This not only manages to bring a sense of genuine flavor to the sentiment this attempts to bring across, but it takes what could have been an all-star hockey flick and brings it down to our level. It was said a lot of big name actors auditioned for the roles of the players, and it’s a god blessing that they ultimately went the smart route and chose real players, and sons of the real players from the original team. The only real actor I recognized during the film was Eddie Cahill who is sadly an underrated actor who doesn’t get enough good roles.

He has the distinction of playing one of the most important roles of the film, the goalie Jim Craig who has that heartbreaking moment during the end of the game where he’s looking for his father as the team celebrates, it’s a real moment in history and a moment in the film that will leave you tearing up. What was sad is that they don’t focus enough on the rivalry between the players. See, before these guys were assembled, they were rivals from rival colleges. These guys were bitter rivals who hated each other, and it was sad that they don’t focus enough on that element and built a real foundation with it. Watching these players battle one another would have been a lot more accurate and a lot more satisfactory towards the movie.

These guys had to get over their rivalries and basically bring it together and work as a team and Brooks forced them to do so, and we never get to see enough of that. What’s worse is they don’t focus on the Herb-isms. Herb Brooks was known for creating and spouting these inspiration albeit very odd one-line phrases and they don’t show that enough which would have added to Brooks and define him as a man on the screen for the audience. The main flaw is the climax where Jim Craig with the American flag draped over his shoulder cruises the ice looking for his father amidst the roaring of the crowds. They manage to show us that Craig loved his parents and especially his father, but they don’t go for the money shot which I assumed they would. He’s shown briefly without sound, but if they had drawn it out more it could have made for an utterly heartbreaking moment in film.

As for the acting, well the actors who perform the duties essential to the success of the movie. They pull in performances that need to be bought by the audience, they give good performances, and I managed to buy every minute each of them were on-screen. There’s no lack of screen time for any of the players, which would have been a big problem with big name actors. Now as for the main role, the most important role Kurt Russell, well he pulls in the performance of his career. For an actor whom I’d doubted in merit for most of his career, mainly starring in action fare, he manages to take on the persona of the great Herb Brooks and literally embodies him. While he doesn’t completely look like him, he manages to attain the most important aspect, his personality and body movements.

He must have spent days interviewing and researching Brooks because he goes all out for this role and is just amazing as Brooks. From the tacky clothing, to the newscaster haircut, right down to his gruff, bulldog grimace, Russell does it all, and then some and it would have been nice to seem his get some recognition for the feat he pulls. Otherwise he gives a shocking performance here, as does Patricia Clarkson who plays Brooks’ wife. Clarkson is great here as she always is and manages to keep Brooks in line when he manages to get ahead of himself and let the game take up his time. Clarkson is great to watch here, but what’s most satisfied is the fact that writer Eric Guggenheim and director O’Connor master the two key elements: the team and Brooks.

What was most appreciate was the fact they focused on the inner person of Brooks, the man who trained this team to the bone, the fact he over trained them when they slacked off, and the fact he was relentless in his leadership and motivational skills. Brooks unfortunately died before filming could be complete, but as the film states, “He lived it” so there was no need for him to view the movie, but I think if he were around, he would have been proud of the movie, because he and many other men were apart of an amazing legacy, and this captures it with much craftsmanship. This is an inspiring tale of being the odds, banding together, and beating the hell out of the Russians. It was a miraculous feat to beat the Russian team, and the other feat is that the film is so well done. Brilliant performances and a great story, this is a real tearjerker.