Movie Review: "Miracle"

by Al Schoch
Al is a reporter for the MNN Radio Network

There was much skepticism when it was announced that the 1980 US Olympic hockey team's 4-3 win over the Soviet Union was going to be made into a movie. We all remembered that weak attempt on TV with Karl Malden, and knew that hockey movies were generally bad. Casting Kurt Russell as Herb Brooks was another issue. And Disney was involved.

But we were wrong.

What really sets "Miracle" apart from "The Mighty Ducks" and "Mystery, Alaska" is the guys in the skates. I mean, casting real hockey players and getting them to act like, well, hockey players is a no-brainer. It was also pretty neat to see Nate Miller on the big screen. I wonder if Chris Harrington calls him "dad?" Then there's Russell nailing Brooks from his Eastside St. Paul accent and inflections to his mannerisms and checkered pants. (Hey, I had a pair of those, too. I have the pictures to prove it.)

Sure, there was some artistic license taken, like the plane hitting a moose (it was a telephone pole), and Mike Eruzione stopping a sadistic back-and-forth drill with his "I play for the United States of America" exultation. But, really, the whole premise of college kids beating seasoned veterans is in itself far-fetched. The first time I saw the replay, 20 years after it happened, I was wondering if the right tape was in the machine. That's how overclassed the US was. And still won.

What the movie does is show us how the team got there. How Brooks molded "the right players" over a period of nearly a year to beat an opponent that seemed impossible to stop. In an age where many get their beliefs from the cinema (how many formed an opinion on the Kennedy assassination after watching JFK?), it's important that we see there were near-impossible odds against the US that winter afternoon of Feb. 22, 1980.

Now, don't get me started about the inaccuracies. That could fill a couple of websites. But does it matter that Ken Morrow was portrayed clean-shaven? That the net behind Jim Craig had a water bottle on top? That none of the movie was filmed in Lake Placid? That USSR coach Viktor Tikhonov was shown massaging his eyebrows? That Al Michaels' play-by-play was redone to have him referring to John Harrington's line as the "Conehead line?" OK, that one was awful and shouldn't have been done. It could have been much worse. They could have redone the broadcast to look like 21st century ESPN (which indeed was around in 1980), with the graphics and the swooshes and the over-the-top announcers.

"Miracle" is one of the best sports movies ever made, even though there really isn't much sports action in the film. Only the hard-core amateur hockey fan will find fault in it (what? No mention of Herbie calling Valeri Kharlamov "Stan Laurel?"). But it will never replace Slap Shot as the top hockey movie ever. That one is an original, and can't be duplicated. Ever see Slap Shot 2? Don't.

Further reading: Remembering Herb Brooks