After a humiliating exhibition loss, Coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) forces the proposed U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team to run suicides for hours on end for no apparent point or purpose. When his colleagues try to intervene, the coach and his staff are blindsided by Mike Eruzione (Patrick O’Brien Demsey wow that’s a mouthful), who randomly announces his name and hometown. Herb beckons the sweat-soaked player who he plays for, and in-between gasps, Eruzione proclaims, “THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.”
It’s the single best scene of “Miracle,” the 2004 semi-documentary, all-magic portrayal of the infamous upset of the Soviet Union by the United States during the Men’s Hockey competition at the 1980 Winter Olympics. It’s also the only scene that fans of the sport and the movie will remember, as “Miracle” fails to carve individual, meaningful personalities and emotions into its players who made the upset possible. “Miracle” might as well be a biopic about Herb Brooks, because we don’t remember a single player’s name or assist count aside of Eruzione’s by the time this movie has cooled.
It’s a common affliction of Disney sports movies like “Invincible” or “The Rookie” where focus is primarily given to a couple of players or coaches, rendering the rest of the team moot for the remainder of playing time. We know enough about Brooks, his wife Patti (Patricia Clarkson), and his dutiful assistant coach Craig (Noah Emmerich) that spending more time dissecting into the ethos of players like Jack O’Callahan or Mark Johnson seems a moot point. But when we look at Disney sport movies like “Remember the Titans,” where the players had enough personality to trump even Denzel Washington’s mightiest of egos, we’re reminded that “Miracle” could have done more but opted for the safe route out.
Still, “Miracle” is a massively enthusiastic and patriotic film fable that hits on the heartstrings while remaining massively entertaining. It’s without question the single best film one could possibly make about the “Miracle on Ice,” and doesn’t cop out for melodrama despite the ample opportunities lurking on the ice. Russell is in best form as Brooks, a man who died before the production but whom we hope would be proud of the “Escape from New York’s” star’s portrayal. Clarkson does due diligence as his supporting but perennially-concerned wife, and Emmerich is the most emotionally resonant star of the film, caught between the lines of greatness and common sense, with only a faint glimpse of glory to guide him toward’s the right path.