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Review written by: Alex Sandell
On February 22, 1980, I was counting the days until The Empire would finally Strike Back. I didn't care for sports, and was thinking about almost anything other than the United States hockey team known as the "Miracle on Ice." I was too young to be caught up in the whole America vs. the Soviet Union thing (although I overheard the news enough times to know that we were only a heartbeat away from being bombed straight to hell), so I didn't have any reason to tune in and watch the game.
It was the day after the game that I finally heard about the game. The schoolroom was abuzz with talk about "America beating the commies." For a second, I thought the Cold War was over, or we just blew up the Soviet Union, or something. Instead, it turned out that the American hockey team had beat the nearly undefeatable (they hadn't been defeated since 1960) Russian hockey team. And the coach was from Minnesota. So, if you're old enough to remember what an event this was across the United States, imagine it times one-thousand, if you lived in the state where the coach (Herb Brooks) and many of the team members hailed from. It was as though the Cold War was brought to an abrupt end, and Minnesota was the victor.
If you aren't a Minnesota native, there's no way you can grasp how much the 1980 Olympic victory meant to this state. The buzzing never really stopped. For the next 23 years, at least a couple of Minnesotans a year would come up to me and feel the need to reminisce over that day when Minnesota "beat" the Russians. On August 18th, 2003, I was counting the days until the King finally made his Return. I still didn't care much for sports, the Cold War was over (and Minnesota didn't win it, single-handedly), and I was still the same old movie geek that I was 23 years earlier.
When news broke that Herb Brooks, Minnesota coach of the U.S. Hockey Team that beat the Soviets, was killed when his minivan rolled over north of the Twin Cities, the country, and to a far greater extent, the state of Minnesota, was devastated. Herb made the top of the Minnesota news for the next couple of weeks. Actually, he was the news for the next couple of weeks.
A date's announced for his memorial service: it makes the top of the news. The memorial service happens: it makes the top of the news. An old friend of the coach has a poignant memory of the man: it makes the top of the news. I've never really seen anything like it. One episode of the 10 PM news spent less than 2 minutes on world news and the other 28 on fans on the street and in sports bars telling the camera what they missed the most and liked the best about Herb Brooks. Herb topped the small heap of Minnesota heroes — and we weren't going to let go of him easily.
It will come as no surprise, in that case, that the screening I attended for Miracle was sold out almost an hour before the movie started. A couple I talked to from Northern Minnesota spent over 6 hours driving in below zero temps and blizzard-y weather to see the movie. Never before had I felt such a community atmosphere at a film (not even at those movies where the geeks such as me get together and dress up as Darth Vader and Gandalf the White).
People were wearing their hockey jerseys. Others came with hockey sticks they claimed Herb Brooks signed, himself. I came dressed in a leather jacket and some dumb-ass T-Shirt, and felt entirely out of place. The entire theater full of people was talking about that cold night in 1980 that warmed their hearts. All I could do was keep my mouth shut and never let anyone know that, rather than watch the game, I sat and fantasized about where the next episode in the original Star Wars trilogy would take the series.
The movie started and people immediately accepted Kurt Russell in the role of Herb Brooks. Kurt really did get it right. This is probably the best performance that he has ever given. He even has that annoying Minnesota accent down pat (we don't all talk like that, really. Only small pockets of the state have maintained that accent, and I have no idea why.) With a Brooks' wig on, he looks like someone frozen between a digital morph of Herb Brooks and John Kerry. Still, it doesn't take long to believe he is Herb Brooks.
The film has plenty of nostalgic moments for Minnesotans. What stood out to me the most was Herb reading The Minneapolis Tribune. Long ago, there was a Minneapolis Star and a Minneapolis Tribune. The two merged, and it's bugged me ever since. It was really nice to see the Tribune as it once was, when it was once a paper worth actually reading.
There's plenty more nostalgic material for anyone who lived through the seventies — even if they've never set foot on Minnesota soil. The opening credits are an incredible trip down memory lane. If you're somewhere in your early 30s, you're probably going to end up liking the opening credits more than anything else in the movie.
But it doesn't stop with the credits. There's a scene with people waiting in an extremely long line to get gas. The sign at the station reads "yes, we have fuel. Five gallons maximum." It may not read exactly that, but, for some reason the security jerks at the theater wouldn't let me bring in my notepad. Odd that hockey sticks are okay, but notepads are considered a security threat. But, if you lived through the fuel shortage, you'll never forget sitting in your car, with no air-conditioning, in those gigantic lines during the hottest days of the summer.
What doesn't work so well in the movie is the actual movie. Miracle is a by-the-numbers Walt Disney sports' flick with better than average production values and quality acting.
The speeches get embarrassingly bad. I don't know if the real life Herb actually told the team members who were selected that the folks leaving were "the lucky ones," but when the fictional one did, even a few of the diehard Minnesota fans couldn't stifle their giggles. Some of the comments about the Russians were ridiculous. When one player asks another if the Soviets ever smile, the player says something along the lines of, "they'd be shot if they did" (again, me without my notepad). The movie never really deals with the background behind the players or the coach. This is quite possibly the most test marketed film in cinematic history. We don't learn anything new, interesting or controversial about Herb Brooks or his team. The movie is simply a retelling of the events of 1979 and '80.
I felt badly for the fans that came expecting a miracle of a film. They left with comments such as, "well, it wasn't fabulous." They had the same look on their faces that Star Wars fans did after watching The Phantom Menace. This film had a hell of a lot of potential. Gavin O'Connor did a more than adequate job at directing Eric Guggenheim's script. Unfortunately, Guggenheim wasn't willing to take any chances. A coach and a team willing to take as many chances as they did deserve a film less cautious than the one they received.
There is a single moment that gets the audience going, but it has nothing to do with Guggenheim's screenplay or O'Connor's directing. When a dedication to the real Herb Brooks appeared at the end of the film, the theater audience gave the coach a standing ovation — it's too bad the rest of the film couldn't inspire them in the same way.
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Coming Soon — Reviews for a ton of new movies (50 First Dates, Dawn of the Dead etc.), and a few more reviews I still need to write to get myself caught up (In America, Monster, 21 Grams). Stupid, stupid flu getting me all behind in my movie watching and review writing (and then being thrown into jail overnight didn't help)!
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Text ©(Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].