“Do you believe in miracles?”
In the late ’70s, the Soviets were scaring the crap out of pretty much everyone and America’s self-esteem was in the toilet. Even worse, the U.S.A. would get regularly creamed in hockey by the Eastern Bloc. The 1980 Olympics would set up yet another showdown between the Red, White & Blue and the Reds for presumably another slaughter-on-ice, but coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell, Death Proof), had other ideas.
Pursuing an unorthodox coaching style that mainly revolved around the wearing of horrible pants, Brooks assembled an eclectic group of amateur players, worked them until vomiting happened as often as blinking, taught them a new way to play that involved, I don’t know, skating a lot and swinging their sticks in the general direction of the opposing goalie, all to set up the ultimate grudge match in Lake Placid, NY.
Love this movie. You know how it ends, it’s kind of long, Herb Brooks is less likable than Achmedinejad, and it’s tough to keep track of all the separate personalities on the team, but golly gee if Miracle isn’t pretty much the perfect sports movie. It absolutely belongs in the same conversation as Hoosiers or Rudy, and receives honorary membership in the Pantheon of Movies That Make Grown Men Cry.
Miracle has everything you need: a team full of quirky dudes who come together and become a family; a kick-ass locker room speech by the head coach; a teammate struggling with a personal matter that gets a tearful payoff; a sport that lends itself to photography; and, of course, great villains! Though the game versus the Soviets is the centerpiece of the film — snagging nearly 20 minutes worth of screen time to recreate the action in painstaking detail — the practice and prep was just as interesting. Seeing how Brooks and his team worked their pucks off expressly to hang with the Soviets is compelling stuff, making their ultimate victory that much more satisfying.
Russell is great as Brooks, virtually disappearing into the man’s plaid trousers. He may not be the warmest or most charismatic fellow, but Brooks obviously cared for his players and was committed to pulling off the greatest upset in sports history. Russell buys into that characterization completely and the film is better for it. Complementing him is a collection of, ironically enough, largely amateur actors filling in as the amateur hockey players they’re representing. They’re all well cast and likable, and though a lot of the faces get lost in the shuffle, the kids the film focuses on are great, propelling the human drama forward.
Now on to the real star: The Hockey. This is a sports movie crammed full of sports action. The hockey mayhem captured here is robust and eye-popping, particularly The Big Game — an expertly choreographed affair that somehow manages to generate tension, even as a foregone conclusion.
On DVD, all of this icy tomfoolery looked superb, and represented one of the finest visual treatments I’ve seen on standard-def. I had high hopes for the Blu-ray treatment and wasn’t disappointed. The upgraded 2.40:1 HD transfer looks terrific, and while it may not be a proportional leap in eye-popping quality, it’s still a top-tier treatment. The highlights continue to be the skating sequences, which pop stronger than ever. The thick reds of the Soviet uniforms contrasting the red, white, and blue, plus the glaring sheen of the ice equal pure eye candy. The audio mix — DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio — is an aural delight, blasting out the multitude of rich sound effects with clarity, while projecting the swelling, though unmemorable, Inspirational Sports Movie Score. The extras are plentiful, but you’ve seen them all before: commentary from director Gavin O’Connor, DP Dan Stoloff, and Editor John Gilroy; featurettes on Herb Brooks meeting with the filmmakers and Kurt Russell, the actors’ journeys, the sound work, and a general making-of documentary; outtakes; and an ESPN roundtable discussion.
One of the better sports movies in years lands a gorgeous Blu-ray treatment. A little effort in the HD-specific extras would have been appreciated.
Not Guilty. U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!