Disney scores with Miracle of a hockey movie
It's hard enough to create a sports movie that meets the public's approval; it's another thing to create a sports movie approved by someone who lived it, such as Jim Craig. Disney's Miracle, an account of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team's victory in 1980, passes both tests through its casting and commitment to authenticity.
Miracle tells the story of the Olympic Hockey Team through the eyes of Coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell). Through tryouts, Brooks picked "not the best players, but the right ones." They included surprise picks such as captain Mike Eruzione (Patrick O'Brien Demsey) and goalie Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill). The young players-college boys with an average age of 21, went on to defeat a daunting Soviet squad in the triumpth dubbed the "Miracle on Ice" and won the gold medal against Finland in the 1980 Lake Placid Games.
Disney's painstaking effort to recreate the feeling surrounding the game paid off. Of course, the authenticity started with the 80s period dress: Brooks's checkered pants, the shaggy haircuts, and Craig's ancient goalie mask. The United States' weaving style of skating was choreographed to match that of the game against the Soviets, former NHL goalie Bill Ranford tended the net in scenes where Craig's face was masked, and the director, Gavin O'Connor, wove in newsreels and actual footage from the game into the movie. Al Michaels plays himself, announcing the game once again in Miracle-you hear his famous call, "Do you believe in miracles?"
As the coach of the miracle team, Kurt Russell is perfect. Russell masters Brooks's Minnesota accent, the coach's attitude toward training and interacting with his players, and the opposition Brooks faced from all sides about his coaching style. Hockey officials and scouts thought the players Brooks chose did not stand a chance against the Soviets, and the movie reflects his predicament well. It also gives a realistic portrayal of the stress and massive time commitment involved in coaching, shown through the tension between Brooks and his wife (Patricia Clarkson).
Not only was Kurt Russell's casting ideal, but the actual players were believable as well. O'Connor chose to use hockey players as actors instead of actors as hockey players. In the movie, Billy Schneider plays his father Buzz Schneider from the 1980 team. Demsey played college hockey for two years before hanging up his skates due to injury, and Michael Mantenuto, who plays Jack O'Callahan, played Division I hockey at University of Maine-Orono. Since a few of the actors were Boston natives, they pulled off the accent without a problem. It was surprising how well these hockey players glided into the world of acting.
There were a few scenes when it was easy to tell Miracle was a Disney movie. The Soviets fit the role of the big, bad hockey machine with the coach shooting evil glares at the United States bench, and when Brooks questions O'Callahan why the players do not want a newcomer on the team, O'Callahan responds with the line, "We're a family." However, the movie did show the Soviets as a more polished and menacing team, which fits in with the true image of the 1980 team.
Thanks to the newsreels that provided a backdrop of American events occurring in 1980, the audience realizes that the "Miracle on Ice" was much more than a hockey game. Before the Soviet game, the players walk down a hallway papered with telegrams from Americans who found new hope in their Olympic team. Because Miracle stays true to the genuine sentiment of the game and pulls out all the stops to make the movie authentic, it succeeds in satisfying those who saw the game and those who now wish they had been alive to see it.
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