I can’t really pretend that the new movie Miracle doesn’t clunk and sputter. Ostensibly a dramatization of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team’s gold-medal run, Miracle opens with a montage of relevant American history, using obviously re-created and manipulated news reports about Vietnam, Watergate and gas shortages to put the ’70s into a single continuous context. Unlike the similarly inclined Seabiscuit, Miracle adds no richer comment to its message that a sporting event could give a dreary nation hope. The movie wears its meaning like a bright-orange hunting vest. And just in case the underdog formula’s not stale enough, director Gavin O’Connor and screenwriter Eric Guggenheim add a chorus of doubters behind the protagonist, Herb Brooks. The coach’s suggestions for how the U.S. can compete with the Eastern Europeans are greeted with raised eyebrows and open scoffing, as though he were some crackpot scientist explaining how to turn bees into butter, and not a professional tactician who’d been hired for just this kind of insight.
But don’t let yourself get too hung up on the aesthetic groaners, or you’ll miss a lot in Miracle, like a more graceful bit of zeitgeist condensation in which Jimmy Carter’s famous “malaise” speech is repositioned as an eloquent affirmation of the true American character. There’s also a subtly moving scene where the hockey team walks past a wall full of congratulatory telegrams. And in the concluding half-hour of excitingly filmed and edited hockey action, announcer Al Michaels’ play-by-play makes the case for the importance of Olympic glory much better than the harrumphing minor characters, with their “the country needs this right now” oversell.
Mostly if you miss Miracle, you’ll miss Kurt Russell, one of Hollywood’s most consistently underrated actors, playing Brooks as a skilled motivator pushing a bunch of college kids to overachieve out of a combination of fear, anger and intense pride. Miracle never assumes that Brooks wants this team to win for any other reason than his own satisfaction, but Russell’s charisma is such that he makes you believe enlightened self-interest really is the secret to a thriving civilization.
You may not even realize how much Russell carries the movie until the very end, when the team’s celebrating its impossible victory and you find yourself searching the crowd scenes for Russell’s face, wondering how his Coach Brooks is going to react to having his dreams fulfilled. The filmmakers ultimately catch up with him crouched in a darkened walkway in the bowels of the arena. The gold-medal success of the 1980 U.S. Hockey team arguably sparked a decade of optimism, but even while Miracle is reminding everyone how good that moment of triumph felt, Russell shows how punishing a sustained act of will can be.
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I always read your column BEFORE I watch the show anymore. It's better that way.
What's the other review you read?
This was the worse review I've ever read. Maybe you should quit this career path…