Cowards don’t play hockey!
I remember when I was a kid, and the whole family watched the United States Hockey team defeat the all-powerful Russians in the 1980 Olympic Games in Lake Placid, New York. I didn’t even like hockey —still don’t. It was the pride of country, and the underdog position that the USA team was in that made the whole experience so memorable; and of course Al Michaels’ classic call, “Do you believe in miracles?!” Red Army is a documentary that chronicles the life of 5 men on that 1980 Russian team. These guys didn’t believe in miracles, they believed in hard work, and became some of the greatest hockey players the game has ever seen —all while living under strict Communist control.
Hockey was everything in Russia, and it was every child’s dream to play for the Red Army Hockey Team —but only a few ever made it. The documentary Red Army is the real life account of 5 of the best players to ever wear the bright red uniform for this powerhouse team.
Red Army is a fantastic documentary directed by Gabe Polsky, and it explores the life of Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov and his teammates in Communist Russia during Russian domination of Hockey in the 80s and 90s.
Slava, as his friends call him, is now the Minister of sports in his beloved home country of Russia. This former captain of the Red Army Hockey team, now wants to build up a sport decimated by players who have left for the lucrative contracts offered by America’s National Hockey League. In Slava’s time, they had no such freedom, he and his teammates lived in a time before Perestroika and Glasnost opened doors they never could’ve imagined.
Today’s Slava Fetisov is arrogant, foul mouthed, and a bit of a douche. Maybe he was always like this, or maybe it is the douchiness any hot shot politician needs to be successful. At one point in the film, Slava flips Gabe Polsky the bird, because the director keeps talking to him while Slava is answering emails during the interview. I liked this display however, it shows the chutzpah of a man who would take on anyone or anything that gets in his way; even the tyrannical government that tried to wrest control over his career, when American Hockey teams were clamoring for him to play in the US.
Slava talks about his initial tryout for the team, his love for former coach and mentor Antanoly Trasov, who was fired in the 70s and replaced by a heartless tyrant named Viktor Tikhonov, whom Slava and the entire team hated. It even touches on that 1980s loss to an American team they beat pretty convincingly just before the Olympics. Even today, Slava has a hard time discussing that game.
But the heart of Red Army is the story of this special group, affectionately called the Russian 5, who changed the way the game was played. As a younger generation of Russian hockey players are free to sign with the NHL, enjoying all that America offers, the contrast between these younger players and the old guard like Slava, is dramatic.
Although Polsky spends a great deal of time with Slava, he doesn’t ignore the 4 men who played alongside him. They are as proud of their time together as their captain is. There were no standouts, in fact in one scene Slava is praising Alexei Kasatonov as the best defenseman on their team, while in the very next shot, Alexei does the same for his friend. They were one, a byproduct of the way they trained. One of the things they could never get used to while playing American hockey, was the individual play, the desire for personal bests. The Russians learned to play like different parts of a whole unit, and that’s what made them so great. They were men who wanted to be the best, who loved the game, and loved each other. Red Army gives us a sense of what life was like behind the Iron Curtain for these teammates; you empathize with these men, but they would never want to be seen as victims. This Red Army team was able to, through hard work, leave an indelible mark on the game they love so dearly.
This 1.78:1 (1080p) presentation shows all the grit of the old Soviet Union in rich detail, contrasting it with America and the current, more capitalistic Russia of today. The DTS-HD Master Audio is crystal clear for the English sections, as well as when their native tongue of Russia is spoken. The subtitles are easy to read, so the viewer is never taken out of the film because of the switching back and forth between the two languages. Extras include, a few deleted scenes; an interview with hockey legend Scotty Bowman; a Q&A with Director Gabe Polsky, and former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul. There’s also a Commentary with Gabe Polsky and Werner Herzog, plus another Q&A at The Toronto Film Festival.
Even if you’d rather gouge out your eyes than sit through even a second of an NHL game, I would highly recommend Red Army. It is about more than just a game, it’s about the lives of people as they try and achieve their dreams and desires. This film shows us that almost anything is possible, even under the most difficult of circumstances.
All the Commies say, Not Guilty!
Red Army (Blu-ray) 2014, Universal, 85 minutes, PG (2015)
VIDEO: 1.78:1, 1080p AUDIO: DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English), Dolby Digital 5.1
SUBTITLES: English SDH, English, French EXTRAS: Deleted Scenes, Interview, Q&A, Commentary ACCOMPLICES: IMDB