Sportscaster Al Michaels unforgettably called out “Do you believe in miracles? Yes!” as the 1980 US Olympic hockey team beat the Russians. They then went on to win the gold medal. And so the team, the last group of amateurs sent by the US to play ice hockey, has been known ever after as the “Miracle on Ice.”
But as this movie shows, miracle is the very last word to be used to describe this team. It’s better than a miracle because it is the story of a team that succeeded through heart and hard work and commitment. If it is a miracle, it is in the “God helps those who help themselves” category.
This is not an “up close and personal” saga. You’re not going to get to find out all the quirky personal details or love lives of the members of the team. This is a movie first of all for hard core hockey fans. Its meticulous re-creation of the training, strategy, and the key moments of the team’s games is the movie’s greatest strength. The silver medal goes to Kurt Russell’s fine performance as coach Herb Brooks. Russell is willing to be unattractive in appearance and behavior to convey Brooks’ famously tough and withholding style.
The movie is less successful when it gives us the inevitable toll-on-the-family scenes, even with the ascerbic Patricia Clarkson as Mrs. Brooks. She brings a warmth and even some sexiness to the inevitable complaints that just because Herb is coaching the Olympic team does not mean that he can shirk his responsibilities at home. And the movie’s weakest point is its attempt to make the team’s triumph too much of a symbol. It spends too much time trying to convey the sense of the era, with an opening credit sequence of clips showing lines at the gas station and Jimmy Carter’s speech about how depressed everyone was. Yes, the miracle on ice was immensely satisfying at a moment when America needed some heroes. But trying to re-create that mood takes away from the genuine splendor of the team’s achivement, which is more than enough on its own.
Parents should know that the movie has brief strong language (including calling someone a “pansy”) and some intense sports scenes. There is a discussion of a team member’s loss of a parent. Some younger viewers may be uncomfortable with the pressure Brooks puts on the team and his dismissal of a loyal player.
Families who see this movie should talk about how Brooks picked the team he wanted — “not the best players, but the right players.” He was not much of a team player himself, when it came to the committee members. Families should talk about the coaches and teachers and mentors who have inspired them to do their best — probably not always the ones who were the nicest. Do you think that Brooks intentionally made the players hate him so that they would bond with each other? Families might also want to talk about how the game has changed for the better and worse since the players are now professionals instead of college kids.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Cool Runnings. The made-for-tv movie Miracle on Ice, with Karl Malden as Brooks, tells the same story from the perspective of the team.