Ice Guys Finish First
It’s Seabiscuit on ice as the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team gets immortalized on film with warm, fuzzy, ain’t-
Not that Miracle isn’t as corny and clichéd as, well, a plucky underdog team giving their all, like our guys were the Jamaican bobsled team or the Bad News Bears or something. Just as the film was getting ready to get to the big game — U.S.A. versus U.S.S.R. — and everything looked hopeless and our best player is out with a busted tendon or something and we’d been beaten soundly by the Russians in an exhibition game two weeks earlier and Iranian students are holding decent Americans hostage in Tehran what o what will we do, I leaned over to my brother, who as something of a sports nut called shotgun on this screening before I’d even heard of the movie, and I said: “I bet the Americans win.” And he laughed. Cuz that’s the kind of movie it is, where if you didn’t already know the ending, you’d already know the ending.
But that’s okay, cuz there’s Good Stuff here. The hockey is pretty exciting to watch, even for me, who understands precisely zip about hockey or hockey strategy or the purpose of any hockey position except the goalie, duh. But there’s as much energy on the ice as there is in a real game, except here it’s all staged to replicate existing real games, isn’t it? Director Gavin O’Connor’s best-
There’s Kurt Russell (Dark Blue, 3000 Miles to Graceland) as team coach Herb Brooks, and this may be the performance of his life. Forget that he pulls off the plaid jackets and the plaid pants and the bad ties and the awful hairdo that looks like a Marv Albert toupee but probably isn’t — the 70s fashions are downright shudder-
And the kids… terrific, all of them, and they’re not really kids — they’re playing younger than they are. Mostly they’re new to acting — though apparently Eddie Cahill, who plays goalie Jim Craig, is something of a heartthrob from appearances on Friends and Sex and the City, neither of which I watch, but he is very cute; Craig is dealing with the recent death of his mother, more inarticulate male emotional stuff, not overdone or underdone, just enough to make you feel for the guy. But Michael Mantenuto, making his acting debut, steals the movie. He’s Jack O’Callahan, the aforementioned injured player — and don’t ask me what position he plays; all I know is he’s on the ice and he’s not the goalie — and when he busts his leg up just prior to the Olympic opening ceremonies, he’s sure he’s about to be pulled from the team. When Brooks comes to tell him he’d better heal up so he can play in the medal round, Mantenuto breaks into the widest, sweetest, crookedest, more heartfelt grin you can imagine that his enthusiasm for the game alone is enough to make you bust into tears in sympathy.
I just barely remember the real 1980 Olympics — I was 10 years old, just starting to be aware of the larger world — and I do seem to have a dim memory of the excitement when the U.S. hockey team won the gold medal. At least it wasn’t quite so long ago as Seabiscuit.