"Miracle" has a really strong last thirty minutes. The film's last piece is a tightly edited, suspenseful and well-told segment that had me often on the edge of my seat. Did I like the other 110 minutes? Well... not as much. The film is the story of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team, a ragtag bunch of college kids from various schools, hand-picked by coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell), who has either coached them, played against them, or deeply researched their abilities. The players not only had to work their hardest to try and qualify, they would eventually face off against the Soviet team, a seemingly invincible set of players who were pretty much unbeaten.
Although the committee is deeply skeptical, the coach believes that he can pull them together. What follows will be quite familiar to anyone who has seen a sports movie. The kids fight amongst one another. The coach's wife (Patricia Clarkson, making the most out of a one-dimensional role) is unsure at first, then supportive, despite the fact that the sport takes priority over family. The assistant coach (Noah Emmerich, good in the role) thinks that the coach is driving his team far too hard.
There's also the Big Emotional Speeches; while it's true that the success of this team was very important to the country during the troubled time, the speeches feel terribly underlined - each of them would be more moving if not accompanied by a big swell of Mark Isham's painfully manipulative score. Pacing could have been better, as well; the film's well-known outcome makes the early half of the film's nearly 2-1/2 hour running time feel a little slow at times.
The performances are generally enjoyable. Russell manages to act strongly enough to overcome a distracting hairpiece and terrible outfits. Clarkson makes the most out of a thankless role. The actors who portray the players do an alright job, but none of the characters were developed terribly well. Noah Emmerich offered an enjoyable, subtle performance as the assistant coach.
So, what "Miracle" offers, for the most part, is a passable and occasionally moving (when Mark Isham's score isn't interrupting, trying to tug at the heartstrings) underdog hockey picture. Yet, somehow, when the picture gets on the ice, it turns into something exciting and exceptional. Cinematographer Dan Stoloff's work is incredible at times, capturing the chaos of the hockey matches in a way that's sleek, intense and exhilarating. The cinematography and the editing combine to form tight sequences that, despite our knowledge of the outcome, still make these moments fast-paced and tense. I'm still pondering the filming of some of the hockey sequences, which must have taken an extraordinary amount of planning and choreography.
I really liked aspects of this film. As I noted, the hockey scenes are terrifically staged, and the film seems to really have a great deal of respect for not only the game in general, but the planning, plays and differing playing styles. As someone who's not familiar with hockey, I was able to not only understand what was going on in the hockey scenes, but also appreciate the strategy behind the plays. There's some good moments between the actors, as well. I liked the pairing of Emmerich's assistant coach and Russell's Brooks, and how the two eventually came to an understanding regarding how Brooks was coaching.
This is an epic, true story that meant a great deal to the players and a country. Although I'm certainly not familiar with the actual details, I walked away from the film feeling as if some of those moments had been captured, but most of the film felt familiar and formulaic. Worth a matinee.