2004, Movie, PG, 127 mins


Could it be yet another sentimental sports movie based on a true story? Definitely. But this hockey movie scores, thanks to director Gavin O'Connor's ability to skate that fine line between inspirational and melodramatic and achieve a satisfying balance. And nearly a quarter century after the underdog U.S. hockey team's trounced the dominant Russian squad at the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics, the story, set against the backdrop of America's political struggles with the Soviet Union, a gas crisis and a worsening hostage situation in Iran, still manages to be both engaging and very relevant. At a time when professional athletes weren't allowed to compete in the Olympic games, coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) searches for 20 top amateur players from around the country to compete for the medal, using an intense training program and his own newly designed style of play that fuses North American and Soviet techniques. Brooks insists that previous crews failed to dethrone the Russian powerhouse because their focus remained on individual talent rather than everyone working together as a team. He recruits a group of young, eager faces — mean age: 21 — and works them hard, in the face of the scrutiny of his employers who question his unorthodox training methods and his choice of unconventional players. But Brooks simply ignores their suggestions and shows little tolerance for the internal battles waged among his boys. When the long-standing rivalry between Minnesota natives and Boston locals escalates, Brooks washes his hands of the mess and leaves the diplomacy to his soft-spoken assistant, Craig Patrick (Noah Emmerich). Meanwhile, Brooks neglects his family, especially his supportive but frustrated wife, Patti (Patricia Clarkson). He bristles at Patti's suggestion that his dedication to the team is just his way of compensating for getting cut from the last American gold-medal winning hockey team just days before the Olympic competition. While naysayers continue to weigh in, Brooks pushes his little-engine-that-could team forward, and within six months gets them ready to face their competition with an actual shot at winning. Their subsequent legendary winning streak leads sportscaster Al Michaels (appearing as himself) to pose the lasting question, "Do you believe in miracles?" While its outcome shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who lived through it, this heartwarming film tastefully and effectively brings the story behind the memories to life. And for the younger audience members, it might just provide a valuable history lesson under the guise of a sports theme. Russell is compelling as Brooks, deftly demonstrating his hard-nosed sensibilities and unflappable determination to win at any cost without devolving into over-the-top caricature. The relative newcomers who make up Brooks' dream team are refreshing to watch, but the true star are the kinetic hockey scenes and their thorough and detailed re-creations of the action on the ice. leave a comment --Angel Cohn

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