"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.
VIDEO: "Miracle" is presented by Buena Vista in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The picture seemed perfectly fine; I was not exactly thrilled with the look of the film when I viewed it theatrically, and this seemed to be a slight improvement. Sharpness and detail remained generally fine, aside from a few moments where definition seemed to be less satisfying.
Edge enhancement and compression artifacts were largely not an issue, but slight traces of both crept into view during a couple of scenes. The print remained free of any sort of concerns; while the picture appeared slightly grainy when I saw it theatrically, the DVD image remained smooth and clean.
The film's somewhat subdued color palette isn't exactly the most pleasing, but colors at least did appear warm and crisply rendered on this transfer. Overall, this was a perfectly fine presentation, but it didn't quite reach exceptional levels.
SOUND: "Miracle" is presented by Disney in Dolby Digital 5.1. The majority of "Miracle" is dialogue-driven, not requiring anything much in the way of aggressive surround use. Dialogue remained crisp, clean and clear. During the sequences on the ice, the film's soundtrack did gear up somewhat, putting the surrounds to use for the sounds of skaters zipping around the rink and crowd noise. Effects seemed clean and crisp and music remained dynamic and bold, too. Bass was firm and punchy, but certainly not overpowering.
EXTRAS: Director Gavin O'Connor, editor John Gilroy and cinematographer Daniel Stoloff join together for a full-length audio commentary. Despite the fact that the track is weighed down a bit of talk about how wonderful everyone was to work with, the commentary still manages to work through a set of interesting topics. We do get a lot of information about the look of the film, as well as what it was like to shoot the hockey sequences. There's also a lot of chat about the rehearsal process, working with some fairly inexperienced actors and some changes that were made to the film along the way. I can imagine some other alternate commentary possibilities for this film: some of the real-life players sitting with the actors, officials, sports historians, etc - but this commentary will do.
Also included on the first disc are previews for other Disney titles and the 18-minute "Making of Miracle", which is a promotional, yet still moderately enjoyable piece. Although the doc starts off talking about how wonderful everyone was, it does a nice job going into some interesting topics, such as the massive search for actors who could be hockey players and the production's pretty remarkable quest for authenticity, breaking down the real hockey scenes and trying to choreograph them for the film. It's amazing to watch the filmmakers attempting to film the hockey scenes on the ice as the action is going on.
The last feature of the second disc is a set of outtakes that runs about five minutes. While not downright hilarious, there are a few very funny missed lines and botched scenes found throughout. Next is "The Sound of Miracle", which is a 10-minute featurette that provides a very enjoyable look at the process of building the sound design of a film, introducing the audience to some of the tasks that must be done in order to capture sound effects and other elements. Director Gavin O'Connor and others discuss the importance of sound for "Miracle"; while the dialogue-driven moments may not seem so remarkable, the film's hockey sequences are terrific. The featurette talks more about ADR recording for the film, how sounds were recorded on the ice and more.
"ESPN Roundtable: Miracle" is a 41-minute program where players Mike Eruzione, Jim Craig and Buzz Schneider are joined by actor Kurt Russell and host Linda Cohen for a discussion of coach Herb Brooks and the real-life events behind "Miracle". "First Impressions" is a 20-minute piece where Herb Brooks joins the filmmakers in a pre-production planning session where he discusses his theories behind the game. The footage is raw and the audio is a little tough to hear, but it's great to be able to listen to Brooks tell stories from his past and share some of his great strategies and experiences.
"An Actor's Journey" is the last feature - this piece introduces the viewer to some of the players that were recruited from across the country to star as the players in the film.
Final Thoughts: "Miracle" has a very good performance from Kurt Russell and great moments - especially the last quarter or so. It should have, however, had more confidence upon the core interest of its story and not felt the need to be quite so formulaic and manipulative at times. Disney's DVD edition provides good audio/video and plenty of supplements. Recommended for fans.