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"Miracle" Review


Title: Miracle

Starring: Kurt Russell, Eddie Cahill, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Patrick O'Brien Demsey

Written by: Eric Guggenheim, Michael Rich

Directed by: Gavin O'Connor

Rating: PG for language and some rough sports action.

Review by Stephen Silver

"Miracle" tells the story of one of the greatest sports victories in American history in one of the best American sports movies in memory, propelled by exciting game sequences and a superb lead performance by Kurt Russell.

Following in the footsteps of previous historical sports movies made by Disney ("Remember the Titans," "The Rookie"), "Miracle" takes it up a notch, telling a super-familiar story rather than an unsung one. But not much is lost in the transition, as director Gavin O'Connor ("Tumbleweeds") uses an unusually long running time to introduce his characters just the right way, while leaving enough time for plenty of game action.

The film begins in late 1979 and, with an opening-credit montage that takes us through the malaise of the '70s, hammers home the point that a major national victory of some sort was, at that time in history, absolutely necessary. In came Herb Brooks (Russell), a folksy yet hard-nosed college hockey coach who is brought in to head up the US hockey team for 1980's Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, not thought to have much of a chance against the seemingly invincible Soviet team.

More than two decades before Billy Beane and "Moneyball," Brooks advocated a very similar system of "efficiency," which led him to favor players all but ignored by most other talent evaluators, and winning with those players against all odds. The team consisted mostly of college players from either New England or Brooks' native Minnesota, and had a median age of 22.

The players are played almost entirely by experienced hockey players with little to no acting experience, and O'Connor does an incredible job getting strong performances out of a couple dozen non-actors. Even more impressive is Russell, perfectly reproducing Brooks' Midwest drawl and plaid-sportsjacket wardrobe; it's the best performance by the actor in years.

The on-ice action, due mostly to the use of professionals, is some of the best filmed sports footage in memory, and many of the classic moments- from Mike Eruzione's go-ahead goal to the players celebrating on the medal stand- are impeccably created.

"Miracle" has a running time on the north side of two hours; the same story could have conceivably been told in 30 minutes less, though the film doesn't waste much time, except for a series of scenes featuring Patricia Clarkson as Brooks' "you-spend-too-much-time-away-from-your-family" wife. It's sort of sad to see a great actress like Clarkson reduced to such a one-note cliche, but other than her it's hard to deem any scenes unnecessary.

Herb Brooks died last fall in a car accident outside Minneapolis; he was 66. The film is dedicated to his memory and it's a shame he never saw it (though the dedication reads "he didn't see it- he lived it.") "Miracle" is the best movie of the new year, and the best film about hockey since "Slap Shot."

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