What a great weekend to be a hockey fan living in Minnesota, as I am. Not only is my state hosting the NHL All-Star festivities in St. Paul, but Miracle, the story of the 1980 U.S. Hockey team coached by Minnesota native Herb Brooks, opened in theaters. And this is one hell of a movie about one of the greatest sporting feats in American history.
Miracle opens with a very nice credit sequence, showing the tumultuous events that America endured through in the 60s and 70s. The credit sequence was nice, but I was worried that they would try and make the event out to be a nation-healing event. I was 3 when this happened, so I'm not sure how much healing was going on, but I'm glad they didn't make the movie like Seabiscuit, cutting to shots of families holding hands and stuff like that. In Seabiscuit, I thought that they tried too hard to show that this horse brought a nation together, and all that jazz. It was just a horse, and, in Miracle, it was just a hockey game, and I'm glad they realized that and didn't make it out to be something more than it was. It was just a hockey game, although it was probably one of the greatest games in the history of the sport.
The casting of the movie seemed to be just like the tryouts for the 1980 Olympic team, with 4,000 men auditioning for the 20 roles available for the players. Instead of teaching actors how to play hockey, they taught hockey players how to act. Like the real 1980 team itself, almost all of the actors were either former or current college hockey players. I'm glad they went this route, because the hockey action was incredibly authentic and I'm glad they didn't want to compromise that for better acting. There isn't a whole lot of dialogue and acting from the players characters, but the acting was very solid, especially considering that almost all of the players were appearing in their first movie. Sure, there are parts where you can see their inexperience in acting, but as a whole, their performances was nicely done.
The majority of the acting here comes from Kurt Russell as the late Herb Brooks, who died in a car accident shortly after shooting commenced. Russell is phenomenal as Brooks, showing wonderful range and just nailing the "Minnesota" accent. For the record, not everyone from Minnesota talks like that, but, for the ones that do, he sounds just like them. He plays the relentless coach to perfection, in the first great performance of the year. Noah Emmerich turns in a very nice performance as Brooks' assistant coach Craig Patrick, and his character, who's character questions Brooks' tiring regiment, is the perfect complement to Russell's Brooks character. Patricia Clarkson gives a nice performance as well as Brooks' wife.
The script here, written by first time scribe Eric Guggenheim, is simply wonderful. This is probably one of the greatest sports movies of all-time, and one of the biggest reasons is because of the script. And the main reason the script is so great is because it's so true to life. There isn't a ton of creative license taken in the script. Basically, the story was told how it happened. There wasn't a whole lot of forced conflict or just plain hokey moments that you'd see in many sports movies. For example, you don't see the "last-second shot" or anything highly dramatic like that. Since this is a highly historic event, there really can't be a whole lot of creative license taken, but it's worth noting that they didn't do this, because that would've been in incredibly poor taste. And it's kind of weird how much suspense they create, especially since we know how the whole thing turns out. I think that there was suspense, for me, because I was sitting there, waiting for them to do something stupid with this movie, but I was incredibly grarteful that they didn't. On top of this, there is some wonderful dialogue, with a great mix of humorous and dramatic moments. One of the few downfalls of this movie is that it is just a tad too long, and there were a few parts that could've easily been condensed. You won't be constantly looking at your watch, waiting to get out of the theater or anything, but some parts are unnecessary.
Director Gavin O'Connor does a wonderful job at the helm here. All of the hockey action is just wonderful, especially during the many blue-line-to-red-line drills, which were captured incredibly well. He has a great, natural touch behind the camera, and his work with the very inexperienced actors was phenomenal.
Miracle is a movie about doing the impossible. It's one of those movies that you'd probably catch the manliest of men crying at. For some reason, improbable sports feats makes guys cry (See: Rudy, The Rookie, etc.). It's a wonderful movie that is very faithful to the real-life event, not adding the Hollywood drama that studios think they need to add (See: Radio). Hockey fan or not, this is the first must-see movie of the year, hands-down. Or, should I say, puck-down.