Film Reviews


By • Feb 6th, 2004 •

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Buena Vista Pictures Distribution / Mayhem Pictures
Running time — 136 minutes / MPAA rating: PG

Why were the 80’s so ugly? The clothes were terrible, the lighting made everyone look 10 years older, hairdos unflattering, bodies shapeless, and people were cursed with drab, colorless, miserable architecture. MIRACLE celebrates the 80’s using as a hallmark a wig worn by star Kurt Russell. It was also an era when people lived in fear of an evil empire – the Soviet Union – that had The Bomb but no food to feed its people. By the way, the Soviet Union collapsed on its own petard.

In 1980 the Soviets had an awesome hockey team that was, according to the Disney press kit, “the greatest hockey team in the world.”

Coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) takes a ragtag team of twenty misfit youths to the 1980 Olympics held in Lake Placid, New York and they, Team U.S.A., win the gold metal in hockey. This is their story.

Well, no. This is not their story. Screenwriter Eric Guggenheim cannot find a good story to tell. None of the players are even remotely interesting.

Director Gavin O’Connor’s letter to the press said this was “the greatest upset in the history of sports” and was voted by Sports Illustrated as “the single greatest sports moment of the 20th century.” O’Connor was galvanized by Herb’s heroic story, writing thus: “Herb and his hockey team shined a light on who we are as a people and as a country. The victory over the Soviets and winning the gold medal united us as a nation, building a bridge between the old and the new, the past and the present. It connected families, neighbors, friends, and strangers. It showed us we could do anything we put our minds to if we worked hard enough and believe in something that inspires us.”

Yet the Soviet Union’s team, “the greatest hockey team in the world,” could not pull their country together to thrive and prosper. Could it be also said that their loss in 1980 shattered and ultimately destroyed a nation?

I totally missed this volcanic, pivotal moment in our country’s cultural history! While MIRACLE’s co-producer Mark Ciardi writes that “These players are iconic;” I ask you, do you know the names of any of the twenty players?

None of the players make an impression in the movie and that is certainly the fault of the screenwriter and director.

MIRACLE is a poorly made movie without soul. The dialogue is trite. Did Coach Brooks really say the inspirational poop that drove this team to victory? It is as if everyone involved was blackmailed into making this film. Kurt plays a stern, friendless coach who is, nonetheless, obsessed with his young players. He does have, as all such movie characters like this must have, an assistant coach who looks at him with awe. Coach Brooks pushes these lazy, lucky boys to victory. He forces them to practice! Yet he neglects his wife and two children. His children are invisible. By the way, how cheap is the production that the only sign of his kids are their voices off-screen saying, “Hi, Dad.” What a dad Coach Brooks was! When Coach Brooks’ wife Patti (Patricia Clarkson) throws a Halloween party, Disney has no money to outfit Patti and Herb. And finally, where is the 80’s music?

Patti is the mythical wife all husbands want. She smiles understandably and nods approvingly. I could not fathom their relationship. There could have been an interesting story here. Clarkson is along for a few weeks work. According to, Clarkson appeared in four movies in 2003 and, as of January 2004, has MIRACLE and two other films in post-production already! (Patricia, I need someone for my home movie. I can pay you $500. Email me.)

I did gather from the press kit that the real Herb Brooks was a modest, unassuming guy. I am disappointed the filmmakers chose to frame an “inspirational” story instead of digging deeper into the psychological drama that surely surrounded “the single greatest sports moment of the 20th century.” The work print I saw was incredibly long and could have easily been cut by 30 minutes.

Director: Gavin O’Connor
Writer: Eric Guggenheim
Producers: Mark Ciardi, Gordon Gray
Executive producers: Justis Greene, Ross Greenburg
Director of photography: Daniel Stoloff
Production designer: John Willett
Music: Mark Isham
Co-producer: Greg O’Connor
Costume designer: Tom Bronson
Editor: John Gilroy

Herb Brooks: Kurt Russell
Patti Brooks: Patricia Clarkson
Craig Patrick: Noah Emmerich
Walter Bush: Sean McCann
Doc Nagobads: Kenneth Welsh
Jim Craig: Eddie Cahill
Mike Eruzione: Patrick O?Brien Demsey
Jack O’Callahan: Michael Mantenuto
Rob McClanahan: Nathan West
Ralph Cox: Kenneth Mitchell
Mark Johnson: Eric Peter-Kaiser
Dave Silk: Bobby Hanson
Mike Ramsey: Joseph Cure
Buzz Schneider: Billy Schneider

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