Who needs a college education when you could just defeat the Russians?
When college coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) is hired to helm the 1980 U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team, he can’t believe himself. At one stage, early in his playing-career, Herb was supposed to be on the same team, but was cut at the last second, making this opportunity seem like a second chance at success. While his wife (Patricia Clarkson) means that Herb won’t be quite the present husband for quite some time, she still supports him enough to where he can take the job and bring all of his hopes, dreams and aspirations to the young, talented whipper-snappers he has to work with. But Herb has a lot to deal with; the team is chock full of hot-heads who think they’re way better than they actually are, and in of their very first games, the team gets their rumps handed to them. So Herb decides to crank everything up a notch and put all of the guys through hell, even if they, as well as some faculty don’t fully support it. That said, Herb’s doing it all for a reason: To defeat the undefeated and incomparable Russian hockey team once and for all.
Miracle, on paper, seems like your traditional, syrupy, feel-good Disney sports flick where we know the heroes, the foes, the conflict, and the ending from the very first second of the flick. And on film, believe it or not, that’s actually how it all plays out, but there’s something more to it than just schmaltz and melodrama. Director Gavin O’Connor is smarter than just sitting down and shooting whatever is in front of him, so that he can collect that nice, big and hefty paycheck from the folks at Disney at the end of the day – a part of him feels and appreciates this true, inspirational tale.
And because of that, somehow, there’s more feeling and emotion to it all.
Sure, the movie is still conventional and hits every beat that a sports movie of this nature should indeed hit, but it hits them all so well, that they’re beats that are hardly noticeable. O’Connor does a lot with this sports genre, in that he has a lot of the conventions – like the supportive, but strict wife, or the training-montages, or the tough-as-nails-coach who isn’t loved by everyone, or the brassy, young talent who needs to be coached harder, etc. – and finds a way to put something behind them that allows for them to work. The fact that we already have a sense of nostalgia for this patriotic blend of America at the start of the 80’s sets in right away and hardly ever leaves, making Miracle feel like a cookie-cutter attempt at giving families “adult” entertainment, when in reality, it’s just a typical sports movie, disguised as something far more meaningful and honest.
If anything, it’s just a sports movie that does a nice job of surprising us, even if we know what’s going to happen. Most of that comes with Herb Brooks and Kurt Russell’s great performance of a simple and straightforward man who has a mission in his life, and will not at all stray away from whatever it takes to get him to achieve that dream. Brooks is a soft-spoken man, who has very little to say at all, but Russell does wonders with this kind of role in that he shows a hard, but passionate man who doesn’t seem to care what others may think or care about him – he just wants to win the gold, screw all of the haters. In a way, there’s something so incredibly awesome about that and the fact that O’Connor keeps the focus mainly on him, helps; we don’t normally get sports movies that take the coach over every other character, but here, it works well for the movie.
Then again, that does take away from the actual players themselves and, after awhile, does have them feel like a bunch of faceless “nothings”.
It’s admirable on O’Connor’s part to cast mostly unknown and inexperienced actors in these players’ roles, as it allows for us to see them as players, and not just famous dudes trying to play hockey, but he doesn’t help them out much. They don’t get a whole lot of development and the scenes in which they do get even a glimmer of any, they’re so poorly-done, it’s almost too obvious that it was a second-priority for O’Connor and writer Eric Guggenheim. Of course, anytime that the movie gets bored with these kids, it heads right back to the compelling Brooks, but it doesn’t help the movie’s case that it’s supposed to be about this one, miraculous team and all we really care about, or who we know the best and most, is probably the coach.
Once again, nothing wrong with that, but it also does take a whole lot more than just a very good coach, to win the gold.
Consensus: Even with the typical conventions of sports flicks firmly in-place, Miracle gets by on a tremendous performance from Kurt Russell, as well as a heart and emotion to the proceedings that make it feel more than just a soulless, big-budget retelling, destined for ESPN Films reruns.
7 / 10