Miracle. Walt Disney Pictures 2004.
Before watching the movie: I’ve heard many references to the “Miracle on Ice”, but only ever the broad strokes, that the US men’s hockey team in the 1980 winter olympics was not expected to beat the Soviet team, but they did. Those broad strokes leave out why anyone would still care about what happened then, and the closest I’ve seen to any explanation past the cold war rivalry has been “it’s an underdog story. The Russians were known for fielding dominant teams.” So here’s an underdog movie. After watching the movie: Herb Brooks gets hired as coach for the US Olympic hockey team, and immediately starts clashing with the US Olympic Committee because they all want input and he has a singular vision of how to coach the US team to Olympic victory. Brooks intends to use tough methods to build his team’s skills and unity. Especially at first, he seems too demanding, almost losing everyone’s confidence until it turns out to have been a test. Through hard work and being encouraged and chastened into being the best, Coach Brooks shapes a team of amateur college players who just met each other into the team to defeat the seasoned and unstoppable Soviet team. This story has a lot of people in a lot of places, a lot of real details to get in. And while I was able to follow the individual players’ arcs a little bit, I wasn’t sure if I was meant to follow them individually, or just see the team’s arc. I was expecting something more like Cool Runnings, which I should not have expected because the team in this movie is five times that size. There are only two games of hockey lingered on by the plot, because the script is as much about the story of the team as the story of the US victory over the Soviet team at the Olympics. However, that historic game gets a lot of focus, leading to taking a very long amount of the runtime. That’s probably reasonable, because it’s why anyone cares and why the movie exists. But it was not able to get me to care about a hockey game for that long.  Fictional climactic games have the ability to sculpt an exciting game, but this movie reenacting a real exciting game had too many details to include, and it became as much of a confusing mess as real matches of sports with big teams. However, the script is very good about communicating why this was an important moment for American morale. The movie begins with a montage of archive footage setting the scene of the Cold War from the Vietnam War to the late 70s, and there are several times that the passage of time is marked by news coverage of political developments. It makes sure we know that the Cold War was tense, the Soviet team was unbeatable, and the feeling in America was grim. And then the magic is made with a lot of hard work and yelling. The finished product is a movie that’s best enjoyed by hockey fans, and it seems fair that mainly people who watch hockey will watch hockey movies. But I watched this movie to understand a cultural event catalyzed by a hockey game, and I left it feeling like I needed to know hockey to really get it. I don’t think I’m alone in that in the audience, and the movie had the potential to break it down more simply for those left behind who probably would have already gotten it just by having watched and studied the game. At the very least, I was invested in the team, if not their big game.

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