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Miracle
2004 - PG - 90 Mins.
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Producer: Mark Ciardi
Written By: Eric Guggenheim
Starring: Kurt Russell, Eddie Cahill, Patricia Clarkson, Michael Mantenuto
Review by: Harrison Cheung
   
It’s the middle of the winter blahs and Disney tactically releases ‘Miracle,’ a highly watchable, upbeat, flag-waving movie loosely based on real events during the 1980 Winter Olympics when the American Hockey team, against all odds, ends up defeating the seemingly undefeatable Soviet team. In what was then called the “Miracle on Ice”, the U.S. team upset the Soviets and scored Olympic Gold.

At its best, ‘Miracle’ is reminiscent of previous Disney “team spirit” movies – ‘Remember the Titans’ crossed with the good humor of ‘Mighty Ducks.’ Director Gavin O’Connor (‘Tumbleweeds’) has put together a fast-paced movie about forging team spirit among a bunch of renegade amateur college players, each more interested in their own ambitions, school grudges, or personal issues. Unlike the hockey-bred Russians, playing hockey is just for kicks for these guys.

Kurt Russell stars as Coach Herb Brooks, a man with a 1970s used car salesman sense of style and hair. Anyone familiar with Russell’s starring turn in the cult classic ‘Big Trouble in Little China” will recognize this outfit – it’s the same gear he had on when he was visiting the whorehouse! Patricia Clarkson plays the long-suffering but saintly supportive Mrs. Brooks – Clarkson seems to have a lock on long-suffering spouse roles. The rest of the cast also suits the Disney formula for team sports movies - a group of handsome if indistinguishably bland young actors who apparently know how to skate.

Disney movies tend to be great training grounds for up and coming talent – be it novice actors or directors. But in ‘Miracle’, no particular hockey player/actor stands out like, say, a Ryan Gosling or Kip Pardue did in ‘Remember the Titans.’ When you have a large cast in a team sport movie, it’s tough for any one actor to shine though a couple of beauty shots hint at some teen idol machinery behind newcomer Michael Mantenuto.

Just as the football movie was set during racial integration in the 1960s, ‘Miracle’ starts off by reminding the audience what the times were like – it was the height of the Cold War, disco was over, and the U.S. Olympic Hockey program was in disarray. Spending some time to set-up the historical premise of the movie helps ‘Miracle’ try to be as audience-friendly a drama as possible, even to those who don’t follow hockey.

Coach Brooks is brought in to forge a team out of his unruly elements. Yes, there’s a predictability here, like a ‘Rocky’ movie, as the team learns to play like a team and accumulate wins, but ‘Miracle’ was clearly written and directed by people who love the sport.

Kurt Russell continues to play everyone’s favorite toughlove father or uncle figure. Unfortunately, though apparently historically accurate, the outfit he wears is simply distracting to his performance. It’s tough to listen to Russell’s growling pep talks and impassioned speeches when you’re wondering about his toupee or his neon-bright checkered pants.

As someone who grew up in Canada, I recall how Canadians were alarmed when the NHL rapidly expanded into the U.S. and how some U.S. networks struggled to make the lightning-fast sport easier to follow on TV. Same problem here. Hockey is a fast-paced game and the scenes in ‘Miracle’ play like a sportcast. (In fact, a lot of historical footage is used.) Some scenes may be hard to follow, and given the flag-waving towards the end of the movie, non-American audiences or non-hockey loving audiences might simply tune out.

Overall, ‘Miracle’ is solid PG entertainment, guaranteed to thrill the hockey fans and families. Well-written to move beyond obvious jingoism, it’ll be interesting to see if the movie can attract a larger non-hockey movie-going audience when it feels more like a slick PAX TV movie. Hey, even the title is PAX perfect!

 
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

 
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