Before watching Miracle, I couldn't imagine a sports movie that wasn't overdone, melodramatic and full of cliché images. And I still felt that way when the film was over. However, perhaps against my better judgment, I liked it anyway.
Kurt Russell plays Herb Brooks, a former hockey player and the last team member cut from the US Olympic team in 1960, when the US beat the Russians and won the Gold medal. He is given a second chance to reach for the gold as the head coach of a new generation of US Olympic hockey players intent on winning the 1980 games at Lake Placid. Brooks has his work cut our for him as he leads his young team he's worked with for only a few months against the veteran Soviets, considered the best team in the world and unbeaten since that 1960 Olympics.
Though some may consider it distracting, one of the elements that made this sports film engaging for a non-enthusiast was its attention to historical context. Miracle opens with a sequence of political and pop culture events, and every so often it sneaks more snippets into the background of the story. In this way, hockey becomes part of the culture and events of the time, thereby connecting with audiences through history, political issues, and retro culture. In certain segments, large historical events shape the plot, as when Russia invades Afghanistan and, because the US plans a boycott of the summer games in Moscow, Brooks is unsure if the Russian team will even show up to the winter competitions. At other times the intervention is as minor as a tv commercial for coca-cola or bad hair and fitted plaid pants.
Indeed, Russell fills his awkward ill-fitting pants role admirably. As the tough coach he was believable, but his talent really showed through in his close-ups. Here I could see genuine haggardness, frustration, and determination on his jowley and pockmarked face. Russell's use of a very subtle mid-western twang also gave him Minnesota hockey-player credibility. And although his role was the only character we really got to know, the versatile Patricia Clarkson as his wife lent sincere moments, as did Eddie Cahill as the star goalie Jim Craig.
While this really is a movie about one man, despite a team of 20 and several other characters, I could have stood more character development for individual players and fewer montage scenes. These scenes of Brooks working "the boys" over and over dragged on interminably. All we see are their bulky skates flying across the ice, skidding to a stop and turning back around, for what felt like 10 or 15 minutes. Even a sports enthusiast would get bored. And yet the score implied utter drama and awe in these montages. It is here especially that the added weight of the struggle to achieve intensity only pulled me into the rolling-eyes discomfort of extreme melodrama. I want to be made to beg for dramatic scenes that are short but extremely powerful; scenes that I never want to end as I hover at the edge of my seat hoping no one in my aisle with have to go to the bathroom and block my view for a second and a half. Not so here. I was tempted to go to the bathroom when I didn't have to, just to make it stop.
Children, however, are perhaps less critical than I, and Miracle is a good family film. The makers restrained themselves from adding girlfriends or extraneous naughty bits and Miracle kept its focus steady on the game. Because it is a true story, you can come away feeling uplifed, even if you thought it was cheesey while watching. And, though I wouldn't be tempted to spend date night at this movie, I could definitely cozy up in a blanket on my couch and pop it in the dvd player.