Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Throw-Back Movie Review - Olympics Edition: "Miracle" by Alex Schopp

Release: 2004
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Written By: Eric Guggenheim
Actors: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Eddie Cahill
Rated: PG
Run Time: 135 min

Though I've been trying to spend a good majority of my time actually watching the Olympics this week, I've managed to sneak in a few viewings of some of my favorite Olympic-themed films to get me really excited for the events. And since I've been watching them, I figured I'd share my thoughts with all of you; maybe a refresher on such films will get your patriotic spirits as high as mine are this week!

Also, as you'll clearly note, this is not a film about an event that we're enjoying during these summer games. I realize such. But it's still one of the best movies that revolve around the Olympics, and if this can't get you pumped for international competition on the grandest of scales, then I don't know what will (and if you're still not satisfied, I'll be rolling out another one of these Olympic-themed reviews in the next couple of days that will put more of a focus on summer portion of the games).

"Miracle" centers around the real-life story of the 1980 USA hockey team that marched into the Olympics as nobodies and took down the seemingly invincible Russian squad to (ultimately) take the Gold Medal. Led by former player and now coach, Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell), the team consisting of no known stars or previous playing experience together was met with criticism and doubt every step of the way. But together, and with the consistent and critical approach from Brooks, the team learned a new way to play the game, came together, and managed to pull out one of the greatest athletic victories in the history of American sports. The timing couldn't have been better either. With America and Russia at ends amid the Cold War, when Americans were scared and had little to rally around, the team became a symbol; it gave everyone something to believe in.

First off, just rehashing that plot line makes me want to already pop this movie in again for another watch. There's no arguing the inspiration that the film emits, and other than actually being a part of something like this, there's definitely a fantastic feeling of commodore associated with the film.

The acting of the film is solid, with Russell clearly providing the the most powerful stuff. I wish I knew a bit more about the real Herb Brooks, but from all accounts, he does a pretty great job here. Brooks was a demanding and passionate coach, and though his methods were sometimes questioned, he clearly accomplished what he set out to do. Russell did a great job of showing that personality of the coach while also providing emotion to a character who generally didn't display much, at least not publicly. There are brief moments where the character lets go and opens up, and in my opinion, it makes those scenes much more powerful.

Noah Emmerich also does a notable job here as Brooks' assistant. He's a nice compliment to Russell's character, and the two provide a really great friendship/working relationship throughout the film, even if they don't always see eye to eye. I thought Emmerich did a solid job here, and though usually in minor supporting roles, I'm generally a fan of his work.

The film isn't shot in any stand-out ways, but there isn't much to complain about either. It is worth mentioning the skating and hockey game scenes, however; they felt very believable and realistic. I've never been a big hockey fan, so I'm sure those who are could spot irregularities or inaccuracies much better than I can, but for the most part, the games feel quite fluid and don't come off as too produced (a problem I've seen many, many times with sports movies). The soundtrack is a nice overall touch to the entire film too, though mostly just referencing 80's inspirational rock songs. It works for the culture and characters' attitudes in the film, and, like most based on a true story tales, it generally helps put us back in the time and helps to reconnect with other things we associated with the era (I use "we" vaguely, as I never got a chance to personally experience this event).

The film is put together quite well and doesn't offer much negative in the technical department. While still based on a true story, with the Hollywood drama added to the script and peripheral events, it does unfold like a typical and predictable sports drama. It's incredibly inspiring, even if formulaic and produced. In this follow-up viewing I did notice that the middle scenes do drag a bit once you're familiar with the story and know how everything plays out. It gets to a point where I was just watching for those final scenes of game play and hoping for some of the personal issues to get wrapped up and out of the way. Don't get me wrong, it is nice to see a sports drama focusing more on individual characters and personal relationships as compared to simply a sports team, but it still moves a bit slowly at points where I just want to get to the good stuff.

My biggest complaint with the film isn't actually a complaint with the film at all - it's simply that I wish I was older than negative-five years old when these Olympics actually took place. I want so badly to connect to this event more than I do. I understand the significance of it, and being about sports, it's always going to hype me up, but I just wish I could have a personal connection with the film and its events. It feels slightly nostalgic just because I've seen and read enough about the events of these games to be familiar with all of the pieces regardless of the movie, but still, I'm left wondering what that Nostalgia score could have been if I were ten or fifteen years older.

Once my personal obsessions with sports are removed though, I can see that it's still an inspirational and heartfelt film that anyone can appreciate, regardless of age or interest in sports. You don't have to be a hockey fan to appreciate the magnitude of this event or feel the power that unfolds with this story. Disney has long been masters of the sports drama, and this, in my opinion, is one of their best efforts. It might be a little too warm outside right now to get into the hockey mood, but if you're looking for something Olympics related to find a stronger sense of country and pride, then this is the film for you. It's a glowing example of the team effort and exemplifies the phrase the sum is greater than the parts. You won't go wrong with this film.