A.J.'s Rating: 4 Stars - Do you believe in miracles?
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If there's one thing movie audiences love, it's the underdog sports movie. Never mind that they're all sentimental, sappy and utterly predictable. There's just something great about the little guy overcoming all odds to win the 'Big Game'. And, whether it's a second chance has-been with something to prove, a scrappy team of talented young misfits, or a feisty, field-goal kicking mule, nobody does underdog sports better than Disney.
The newest addition to this Disney legacy is Miracle. It has everything we've come to expect from the genre. The story begins in 1979, with Coach Herb Brooks, who must mold a rag-tag group of college students into a formidable U.S. Olympic Hockey Team. Coach Brooks is played by Kurt Russell, a veteran Disney player if ever there was one! Brooks has assembled his team, but no one believes they have any chance of success.
Their adversaries are the feared, revered, and seemingly invincible Olympic Hockey Team of the U.S.S.R. Yes, a Cold War is about to be waged upon the ice, with the entire world watching. Sentimental, sappy, and utterly predictable, right? Of course it is. That's the whole point! What's amazing in Miracle is that each of these letter-perfect sports movie cliche's are part of a true story. The coach with something to prove. The misfits working together toward a lofty goal. The climax of the 'Big Game'. It all really happened.
The highlight of the movie is, fittingly enough, the final battle between the U.S. and Soviet teams. I especially enjoyed that director Gavin O'Connor chose to use sportscaster Al Michaels' original play-by-play audio recording over his recreation of the game. Hockey fans are sure to appreciate such attention to the real-life drama of the sport.
The biggest surprise in Miracle is not in its story, but in how that story is told. In many sports movies, the opposing team is, naturally, the villian. The villainous team either cheats or, for whatever reason, does not deserve to win. Our honorable and couragous underdog team is there to even the score. We want the underdogs to win because the other team is evil. In other words, the screenwriter has taken the easy way out. Not so in Miracle! Throughout the movie, the incredible skill and determination of the Soviet team is looked upon with complete respect. In fact, I found it most ironic that a hockey movie could be so devoid of cheap shots!
The villian in Miracle is not another team, but the malaise of the American people in 1980. To put it mildly, the 1970's were not the happiest of days for the old U.S. of A. Miracle uses techniques similar to those used in Seabiscuit to show this, motivating the audience to care about and believe in Coach Brooks and the U.S. team because, at the time, America desperately needed something positive to believe in.
In the end, what sets Miracle apart from most other sports films is that it's not about honor. It's not about glory. It's not about getting even. Miracle is about teamwork. It's about setting and achieving goals. It's about proving something to the only person worth proving something to... ones self. Good concepts for an underdog sports movie, eh?
Directed By: Gavin O'Connor
Written By: Eric Guggenheim
Starring: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Sean McCann,
Kenneth Welsh, Eddie Cahill, Patrick O'Brien Demsey, Michael Mantenuto,
Nathan West, Kenneth Mitchell, Eric Peter-Kaiser, Bobby Hanson, Joseph Cure,
Billy Schneider, Nate Miller
MPAA: Rated PG for language and some rough sports action.