release date: 6 February 2004 (Canada)
run time: 135 mins
considered: Drama, History, Sport
director: Gavin O’Connor
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, Al Michaels, Ken Dryden
movie summary: The year is 1980 and the United States was set to host the XIII Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. The country had just gone through a rough decade and began to look weak on the international stage. The moral of the average American was at modern-day low while they waited in long lines for gas and for their elected officials to step up and take care of business. Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) is not a politician, a wealthy business man, or even someone with a lot of international pull. Brooks was just the coach of the USA Hockey team and the guy that was given the reigns of the team that hadn’t won a medal at the Olympics or at World Championships in decades. His personal mission was to defeat the powerful Soviet Union team who had won four straight goal medals and dominated the world hockey stage since the 1960’s.
Long before the 1998 Winter Olympic games, where hockey teams began to stack themselves with professional players, previous teams featured the best amateur players from their respective countries. In 1980 Herb Brooks was a coach at the University of Minnesota where he was coming off three straight national championships. When USA Hockey called and offered him the job, he gathered up players from colleges across the country and picked the best players to fit his game plan, not based on their skill set. There was a lot of bitterness between kids from Minnesota and Boston but Brooks refused to be their babysitter. In the months leading up the opening ceremonies, Brooks pushed his players to their limits and beyond in an attempt to get them to bond. His plan and desire was to have everyone playing and thinking on the same level because if they are to pull off a miracle, it will take every ounce of blood, sweat, and tears.
my thoughts: I knew about the Miracle on Ice as a very young kid. There was this book which featured all the best covers in the history of Sports Illustrated and it showcased Team USA celebrating. I had wondered what this was all about and when I read up on it I never really thought anything special about it. When the Winter Olympics returned to the United States in 2002, the Miracle on Ice was given the spotlight as the hockey program tried to recapture the same magic of 22 years prior. Sadly for the Americans, Team Canada mopped the ice with Team USA in the Gold Medal game by a score of 5-2, with Herb Brooks as the coach. Thanks to all the new publicity of the event in 1980 during the 2002 Olympics, Disney secured the rights to showcase the events of the Miracle on Ice on the big screen.
When Miracle hit theatres in 2004, I went with one of my friends to see it at a theatre out-of-town. I will never forget that night because while I knew the outcome of the games and the movie, but it appeared so many people in the audience did not. Every time Team USA scored, people literally jumped out of their seats to cheer and clap, it was hilarious on many levels. The greatest thing about the whole experience was this movie would allow a whole new generation of hockey fans to relive the greatest moment in USA Hockey history.
I consider Miracle to be my favourite sports movie of all-time for a variety of reasons, it is really inspiring and motivating. Gavin O’Connor does a fantastic job here telling a quick recap of the events that lead up the games, which included the hard work and mental toughness drills the players suffered through both on and off the ice. These were some of the best college players in the country going up against grown men to fight for the honour of their country. There’s a lot of skating, strategy sessions, and team bonding to fuel the hunger within the players. Kurt Russell steals the show here as coach Brooks, the guy who refuses to befriend any of his players. Tasked with a near impossible job, Brooks picks his players without the committee’s approval and procedures to push his kids until they are throwing up on the benches. He makes them take psychological tests and bag skates them until the building attendants close the lights leaving them in the dark. The philosophy behind his actions is to make these kids bend but not break, to make them show up every day, and be ready for the fight of their lives. Some of the players and coaches question his strategies, but there’s only a handful who understand that he is just playing mind games to keep their competitive fires burning.
(If you are ever looking for an inspirational or motivational speech before a big game, look no further than Russell giving Brook’s famous speech before the USSR game.)
Miracle tries and succeeds at recreating a special moment in world history, in perfect detail. Everything the players do on-screen mimics the real playing calling of the authentic ABC sports broadcast by Al Michaels and Ken Dryden. Thanks to great camera work and angles, we actually get to be a part of the action. Slap Shot may be hailed as the greatest hockey movie in history, but that movie is about all the crazy off ice stories and doesn’t really focus on the hockey action. Miracle showcases every save, big hit, and game changing goal. We are on the ice watching the jerseys flow in the wind and get into the goalie’s face when he makes a save off his pad or glove. There are times when we will feel bad for the players because of the torture they suffer through when they make mistakes, but will embrace them with open arms when they come together to score goals. Along the way there are some funny moments and some sad moments, but that is the game of hockey on and off the ice.
There are a wide variety of characters in this movie and on the team including assistant coach Craig Patrick (Noah Emmerich), the go between guy for the players and coach Brooks. He is always stuck in the middle of whether doing the right thing or doing things Brooks’ way. Eddie Cahill does a great job portraying larger than life goalie Jim Craig. Craig was an above average goalie who turned into a journeyman goalie in the NHL, but his impressive play for a two-week stretch during the Olympics was enough to turn him into a hero. Captain Mike Eruzione (Patrick O’Brien Demsey) , was the guy who was not supposed to be on the team, let alone be their leader. His mindset for the game and his teammates was a far more important tool then his playing abilities which allows him to be the glue that keeps them together. He was originally going to be cut but he ended up being in the right place at the right time to score what would be the most important goal in the history of the USA program. Only one other player really shines brighter than all the rest and that is Jack O’Callahan played by Michael Mantenuto. When OC entered training camp he had a chip on his shoulder and after settling some old scores really turns into the heart beat of the team both on and off the ice. Russell as Brooks, really focuses his attention on these three characters more than rest of the team and allows their characters to blossom into stars under all the pressure and bright lights of the world stage.
In 2005, when I was in college, I used the movie Miracle and the Miracle on Ice story as a focal point for a presentation in one of my classes. The goal of my presentation was how these hockey games and the Olympic games helped changed the American mood at the time it was at its lowest. Disney does a fantastic job here telling a special story jam-packed with many highlights and lowlights. Any story about over coming adversity has many bumps along the way, but sometimes those bumps are what bring people closer together to achieve the ultimate success. Whether you love hockey, history, or inspirational movies, Miracle will be a winner for both the kids and adults who want to witness one of the greatest sports moments in American history.
my final thoughts: Miracle may not be the perfect movie in any aspect. I think that most people shouldn’t expect that because it doesn’t have to be. This is a Disney movie about hockey and an eight month journey from the bottom of the mountain to the summit. No one would ever be able to tear this movie down and make me think any less of it, I just get the urge to put on skates and go play hockey every time I watch this movie. It makes me appreciate hockey even more, while reminding me how impactful the game has been on my life. After watching Miracle yesterday, I still have the burning desire to be on the ice in celebration when the final buzzer sounds.
my star rating: 10 out 10
imdb: 7.5 out 10
rottentomatoes: 80% out 100%
roger ebert: 2 out 4
richard crouse: n/a