An Olympic Film Review: Miracle (dir by Gavin O’Connor)

(Back in 2011, Chris Mead — who wrote under the name Semtex Skittle — reviewed Miracle for this site.  At the that time, I had not seen the film.  Below are my thoughts but please, also be sure to read Chris’s review as well.)


Like all good people, I’m currently obsessed with the Winter Olympics.  Earlier this week I asked a couple of friends if they could recommend some good Winter Olympics movies.  A lot of movies were suggested but, without fail, everyone thought I should see Miracle.  (A lot of people also suggested Cool Runnings, which I’ll be watching next week.)  Having watched Miracle earlier today, I can see why everyone recommended it.

The year is 1980 and two hockey teams are about to face off at the Winter Olympics in upstate New York.  (The location, to be exact, is Lake Placid.  Fortunately, the giant alligators are nowhere to be seen.)

On one side you have the Russian team (or the Soviets as they were known back then).  They are widely considered to be one of the greatest hockey teams in history.  They are big, fierce, and determined.  Coming from a system that has declared individuality to be a crime against the state, the Soviet team plays like a machine.  The Soviets have won the gold in the last four Olympics.  As one American coach puts it, their greatest strength is that every other hockey team in the world is terrified of them.

On the other side, you have the American team.  However, this isn’t the type of American dream team that one would expect to see today.  In 1980, professional athletes were not allowed to compete on the U.S. Olympic team.  Instead, the 1980 hockey team is made up of amateurs and college players.  Unlike the Soviet teams, the American don’t have a government that grooms and supports them.  Instead, win or lose, they have to do it on their own.

Of course, it’s not just two hockey teams that are about to face off.  It’s also two super powers and two very different ways of life.  In 1980, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were the two most powerful rivals in the world.  The Soviets were trapped in an endless and unpopular war in Afghanistan.  Meanwhile, in the U.S., the economy was shaky, American citizens were being held hostage in Iran, and an ineffective President gave long-winded speeches about how unhappy everyone in the country appeared to be.  Both countries needed a victory but only one could win.

And it would take a miracle for that winning team to be American…

I don’t think it requires a spoiler alert to tell you that’s exactly what happens.  I mean, after all, I’m reviewing a film  called Miracle!  On top of that, it’s based on true events.  The U.S. hockey team — made up of college students and led by Coach Herb Brooks (played, in one of his best performance, by Kurt Russell) — not only managed to defeat the highly favored Soviet team but they went on to win the gold medal.

Even if you didn’t know that the Americans beat the Russians, you would never have any doubt about how Miracle is going to end.  Miracle is a film that utilizes almost every sports film cliché but it manages to do so with such sincerity and such style that you don’t mind the fact that the movie doesn’t exactly take you by surprise.  Is there any actor who is as good at project sincerity and human decency as Kurt Russell?  Whenever he says that he’s going to make his team into champions, you believe him.  When he says that he’s being hard on them because he wants them to be the best, you never doubt him or his techniques.  When he says that he’s proud of his team and his country, it brings tears to your eyes.  If there’s ever a movie that deserves a chant of “USA!  USA!  USA!,” it’s Miracle.

AMV of the Day: Our Miracle (Sword Art Online)

The newest “AMV of the Day” entry is one that will give site contributor and anime/manga editor pantsukudasai a smile. It’s a video for one of this year’s newest anime series in Japan and one that’s growing in popularity with each passing day.

“Our Miracle” is a video dedicated to the anime series Sword Art Online and it uses the song “Miracle” from the hard rock group Shinedown. This series has been quite a surprise in that it’s an anime about a fictitious MMORPG of the same. It’s one that I’ve only started watching but I can understand why so many people have been raving about it. It has action, romance and comedy in equal amounts and it actually has quite a story about loyalty and perseverance. Not to mention that it’s pretty dark for a series that’s a visual feast to the eyes with its animation that goes for bold and bright colors and brightly lit settings.

The video itself tries to focus on the romance between it’s two main leads in Kirito and Asuna but at the same giving equal focus on the action that should attract the shonen crowd. If I had to pick a type of AMV this one goes under it would be as an action video and it definitely makes a strong case for action fans to check out. The romance and comedy are great side bonuses for those willing to take them on.

I have to give it up to the video’s creator, FedeBankai, for making a very clean video that doesn’t go for too much excessive video effects. I do like the paneling effect that makes some of the scenes transition from motion to static images on paper. He’s made the best Sword Art Online AMV I’ve seen yet and has raised the bar for those wanting to use the same series to create their AMV around.

Anime: Sword Art Online

Song: “Miracle” by Shinedown

Creator: FedeBankai

Past AMVs of the Day

A Moment in Time: Miracle

Today, with my mother who couldn’t recall the film, I watched Miracle.

For those of you who don’t know, this film follows the rise of the 1980 USA Olympic hockey team as they prepare themselves for the inevitable clash against the unstoppable juggernaut of the USSR. Facing down the fact that the Soviets haven’t been defeated by the Americans since 1960, and that they’ve won three straight Olympic gold medals, the USA’s team of collegiate athletes nonetheless is looking at their own shot at the gold. I cannot recommend this film highly enough; it rests comfortable atop the pinnacle of sports movies ever made, and it tells a story that has all but been forgotten… at least, until mentioned.

Today, it’s commonplace to hear people talk about the greatest moment in sports history. The greatest call in the game. The greatest game ever played. The greatest goal ever scored. But, at least, for denizens of the United States, that honour is one that will never be taken from the 1980 Olympic squad.

Miracle‘s most endearing attribute is that it’s about a real story. And it’s a story that thrills people who salute the stars and stripes even in 2011, or it should. It’s a better story than that of the Marshall football team. It’s a greater story than any recounting of a sport on these shores. It’s a story that could not happen without another Cold War – the story of a team of beleaguered underdogs (whom we love so well) battling against the unstoppable Soviet Union, in a time before the internal failings of the Soviets were known. This was a match that meant more than anything possibly can in sports today, no matter what team you root for, or what your age happens to be.

For me, personally, Miracle follows events that transpired years before I was born. My memories as a young man are not of the implacable Soviet Union hanging like a dark cloud over half the world, but rather of their collapsing economy, unsustainable with the lack of infrastructure that had secretly crippled them for forty years. Of negotiations and compromise that saw the Berlin Wall torn down, and a tenuous alliance between the Russian Federation and the United States be born. I have never lived an era in which NATO seemed to hang as an aegis between my life and nuclear oblivion, or where the threat of communism seemed like one which would march across the globe and take from me everything I held dear.

But I still feel the chills across my skin, the goosebumps rising, during Miracle’s climactic moments – the semi-finals between the USA and the USSR. Unlike most other sports movies, where the true draw is the characters and the drama, and a scripted sporting event can never mean as much, the semi-finals game in Miracle is sung to the script of history. It was a real game, where nobody on earth knew the result before it was written. Al Michaels reprises his role as play-by-play announcer, dubbing over his own dialog from the original broadcast, and our actors re-enact the twists and turns of this amazing contest on the ice.

I write about it for three reasons. Each of them single lines from the film, and each of them uttered from the roughly 20-straight minutes of hockey that we are treated to as viewers at the end of the film. Kurt Russell delivers for us perhaps the greatest performance of his career, in what is debateably the greatest film of his career, and what is probably the greatest sports film of all time.

“They just benched the best goaltender in the world,” he assures his team after a first period in which the USA dared to tie the score and the Soviets pulled their goaltender, Vladislav Tretiak, in a game where everyone present knew they were lucky to just be trailing by one going into the break.

“He doesn’t know what to do,” Kurt Russell, as the real-life character Herb Brooks, assures us as he sees Soviet coach Viktor Tiknohov barking terse commands at his team halfway into the final period. Against all odds, the USA’s team is still in this game, as the crowd at Lake Placid New York tirelessly chants “U-S-A!”, waving American flags, their energy carrying that USA collegiate team against a squad that, while “amateur” themselves, were easily considered to be the best hockey team in the world.

Finally, as time begins to expire, the digital redubs that Al Michaels recorded of his play-by-play switch back to the original telecast. We hear an Al Michaels thirty years younger screaming into his mic, as the puck is cleared toward center ice, putting the victory literally out of the reach of the USSR, “Do you believe in miracles!?” he pauses an instant, as the time truly does expire, and then screams “Yes!”

And history goes wild.