Posted: 02/09/2004




by Coco Delgado

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It’s very hard to make a movie suspenseful when the audience knows how it ends. The surprise ending? Ain’t gonna happen if it’s based on a real-life event that was televised world-wide.

Such is the challenge of Miracle, the story of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey Team and their coach, Herb Brooks. The US team, a bunch of “guys from Boston and Minnesota,” was nobody’s choice for a medal at all, let alone a gold. And yet, because of their guts, and because of Herb Brooks’ determination, they beat the Russians and went on to beat Finland to get the gold medal.

It’s a great story. Even better because it really happened.

This film, oddly, reminded me more than a little of Seabiscuit, with which it actually has a lot in common: it’s a story of misfits who, together, beat the odds, it’s a true story, and it’s a thing that’s incredibly tricky to translate onto the big screen. WIth Miracle, even more than Seabiscuit, the biggest challenge is the audience. People saw the actual event happen. They remember it. They are going to notice if something is done wrong.

Disney does a pretty good job. The actual hockey-playing scenes are choppy and all over the place, putting the audience on the ice with the players, which is a nice touch. They’re intercut with actual footage from the XIII Winter Games, and narrated by the original announcers Jim McKay, Ken Dryden and Al Michaels. Considering this is the outfit who inflicted The Mighty Ducks on the world (and then had the nerve to buy an actual NHL team and name them that), that’s a relief. And while this could have been made into a heavy-handed allegory, comparing the Cold War to the current state of the world, the film avoids all that, choosing instead to play it straight as a docu-drama which focuses mainly on the pre-Olympic training and the USA-USSR game. Of course, these hockey players don’t swear. Not when they’re fighting, not when they’re drinking…there’s a “damn,” a “hell,” and, oooh, a “commie bastards,” but that’s it for profanity. Kind of hard to believe, considering a lot of those boys were from Boston. These are the most polite hockey players I’ve ever seen in my life.

It’s also rather amusing that Kurt Russell stars in this, since Disney was his bread and butter back in the late 1960s, when he starred in such classics as The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and The Strongest Man in the World…

But the real spotlight role, although tiny, is that of Herb Brooks’ wife, Patty, played by Patricia Clarkson (who’s up for a Best Actress Oscar for her role in Pieces of April). This is a sports movie, and, as such, has very few women in it at all, but Clarkson takes what she’s given and runs with it, portraying Patty as a patient woman who loves and supports her husband, but who also gets fed up with him and, at times, gives him some much-needed reality checks. She’s astounding in this, and she makes what would have otherwise been an inconsequential part into something integral.

The real Herb Brooks died in an automobile accident while this movie was being filmed. He worked on the film as an advisor, and the film is dedicated to him: “Dedicated to Herb Brooks who died shortly after principle photography was completed. He never saw it. He lived it.” A fitting tribute to a man who never won gold on his own skates, but coached twenty young men to victory.

Coco Delgado is a writer currently enjoying life in Boston.

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