TMN Sports Movie Review: "Miracle"

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Miracle tells the true story of Herb Brooks (Russell), the player-turned-coach who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team to victory over the seemingly invincible Russian squad.
3.5

Rating: PG
Length: 135 minutes
Release Date: February 6, 2004
Directed by: Gavin O'Connor
Genre: Drama / Family / History

Released in 2005, "Miracle" celebrates the triumph of the human spirit. Starring Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson and Nathan West, the movie tells the thrilling true story of the U.S. Olympic ice hockey team in 1980. For lovers of hockey, sports and tales of underdogs, "Miracle" is sure to please.

The story opens on Herb Brooks (Russell), the head hockey coach at the University of Minnesota. In an interview with the U.S. Olympic Committee, Brooks lays out a unique strategy that he believes will lead the American team to victory over the Soviet team. After he is brought on as the coach of the Olympic team, Brooks disregards the standard tryout process. Instead of taking the advice of the Olympic committee, he shocks the world by picking his team after the first day of practices. Setting aside standard practice, he chooses the players that are eager to win.

During the team's practice seasons, Brooks asks his assistant coach, Craig Patrick (Noah Emmerich), to act as the players' friend. Brooks, on the other hand, prefers to keep his distance rather than to develop close relationships with his team. He acts solely as a coach, offering guidance and helping his players increase their skills. After a series of grueling practices, the Olympic team plays a number of exhibition games. Each game teaches the players and the coach a lesson — often, in a painful manner.

As the Olympic tournament starts, the team struggles in a game with Sweden. After a thrilling win in the last minute, the American team is inspired to play its best. Through pain and injuries, they go on to beat a number of teams before making it into the medal round. A nail-biting game with the Soviet team forms the climax of the film in a scene that is sure to leave viewers on edge.

"Miracle" offers a unique twist on the traditional sports film. Instead of following the stories of the players, it focuses almost entirely on the coach. Viewers do not have a chance to get to know the players on an intimate level, but they are treated to extensive scenes that show the coach and his processes. The movie attempts to capture the legendary coach's enigmatic personality, from his unique coaching style to his strained home life as a true workaholic.

As Brooks, Russell gives a commanding performance. He inhabits the role fully, so that viewers see no distinction between the actor and the character. Russell's Brooks is appropriately introspective, communicating complicated mental processes with a single facial expression. Over the course of the film, viewers have the chance to see how his unique coaching style impacts the team. Using his considerable acting abilities, Russell is able to avoid the clichés that often happen during sports movies. Instead, he gives a true, believable performance, perhaps aided by the real Herb Brooks, who was involved in the production. As a result, when Russell is on screen, his magnetism is so strong that it is difficult to look away.

"Miracle" manages to stay away from the pitfalls that plague many sports movies. Director Gavin O'Connor and writer Eric Guggenheim do not portray the other teams in a negative light or focus on silly, pointless struggles of individual players. Instead, they send the message that victory is possible, even in impossible situations, with hard work. "Miracle" communicates the dedication and drive that are required of professional athletes. It celebrates the people who reach past injuries and personal fears to achieve greatness.

While the majority of "Miracle" centers around Herb Brooks, the supporting cast gives an outstanding performance. In support of the central vision of the movie, no single actor is a scene-stealer. Like the players they portray, the actors work seamlessly together as a team. As the assistant coach, Noah Emmerich gives an excellent performance, proving himself a strong enough actor to hold his own with Russell's onscreen magnetism.

For sports fans, and hockey lovers in particular, "Miracle" is sure to please. The culminating action in the movie centers around the American-Soviet hockey game. Approximately 20 minutes of the film is spent on the game, giving viewers a play-by-play look at the tense, thrilling action. Throughout the film, the knowledge that the story is based in reality brings an undercurrent of excitement.

"Miracle" is a suspenseful, introspective take on the classic sports movie. With its excellent acting and unique angle, the movie offers something for action fans and viewers who are interested in a more in-depth look at the sports psychology. Thrilling and intelligent, "Miracle" is an ideal choice for the whole family.