|We thought Miracle would be a sappy account of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice," in which 20 scrappy, scruffy American college kids beat the big, mean, otherworldly Soviet machine on its way to winning hockey gold at the Lake Placid Olympics. We were afraid the Disney movie would overly sentimentalize our greatest sports memory.
Now we realize even Disney couldn't overdo it. If anything, Miracle scales back on the drama and emotion of that night in February when Al Michaels made the famous call: "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"
It wasn't just that the Americans were overmatched, playing against the best team in the world, a collection of Soviet robots who'd been playing together for years and who beat up on NHL teams in exhibitions. It wasn't just that the Russians thrashed Team USA 10-3 just two weeks before the Olympics in an exhibition of what looked like what was to come. It wasn't that the Russians had won gold in every Olympics since we won in 1960.
All those things would've made an American win in that semifinal medal-round game a great moment in sports, but what made the win over the Russians so huge, so much larger than a great hockey game, was that in 1980 we were still very much in the grips of the Cold War. Russia had invaded Afghanistan, hostages were being held in Tehran and the economy was a mess, punctuated by sky high inflation. You had to wait in line for gas. The national psyche was in the dumps.
While the Cold War spun on passively, aggressively and inconclusively, here we had a definite winner---the overachieving good guys---and a definite loser. The "Miracle on Ice" made us believe in ourselves. There's just no way to overly sentimentalize it. We'd beaten our enemy when we were beginning to think we couldn't, and we did it against the longest odds. We're crying now as we write this.
Kurt Russell does an excellent job as Herb Brooks, the inspirational coach who hand-picked the team from mostly Minnesota and Massachusetts college players, and worked them hard. Russell looks more like Bobby Orr, the hockey great who played for the Boston Bruins, but he nails Brooks' Minnesotan accent. The ice in the film is white, not the milky blue weirdness in Lake Placid. Otherwise the filmmakers captured the look and feel of the event, right down to effective use of Michaels' actual call of the game.
There's a lot of hockey, another nod to director Gavin O'Connor for spending necessary time building drama on the ice. People who know little of the sport, though, like many of the people in the country who fell in love with the team 24 years ago, will not be lost.
What does it say about our own times that this year has seen two inspirational movies---Miracle and Seabiscuit---recalling great moments in sport that lifted spirits in past troubled times? We don't necessarily need a miracle in sport right now, but we could start by making sure George W. Bush doesn't kick off another Daytona 500.