The U.S. Olympic Committee chose University of Minnesota coach Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell) to coach the American hockey team with the hope of not being embarrassed by the eastern bloc countries in the upcoming winter games at Lake Placid. The Soviet Union had dominated the Olympic hockey scene since the mid-1960s, while the U.S. team had been its whipping boy. In the movie, the team sets out as individuals playing on the same team, but through the course of the movie they grow close to one another, and through the tough-love coaching of Brooks, they realize a common goal to rise above the odds. Of course, it is no secret how the movie ends. The U.S. comes together as a team, defeats the Soviet Juggernaut team in the semi-finals, then goes on to win the gold medal, defeating Sweden in the finals. In a time when America needed heroes, what it got was 20 young men (their average age was 21) who, to the surprise of everyone, were exactly what we needed.
Kurt Russell’s Minnesotan accent isn’t entirely convincing, but he provides a decent performance. For an actor of his past record, Russell does a good job of not overdoing his part and seems at least somewhat humble in his role. There is a good amount of character development in the film which is a refreshing break from the prototypical sports flick. The film is a bit distant at the beginning, but as the stakes grow higher and the players draw closer together, the heart of the movie grows.
Screenwriter Eric Guggenheim and director Gavin O’Connor do a good job at capturing the feeling of the times. America was hanging in limbo and certainly had a lack of direction. The film opens with a montage sequence reviewing the turbulence of the past decade. America had gone through Watergate, and oil crisis, the fall of Saigon, and Three Mile Island incident to name a few. Americans were feeling a loss of their identity and did not know in whom they could trust. Of course, this all relates to the theme of the movie: When Americans pull together and work as one, they can overcome insurmountable odds.
O’Connor does a fantastic job in the later hockey scenes. Even though the audience knows the outcome of the movie, he is able to hold the audience in the same suspense as a real hockey game. O’Connor actually uses the already well-known story as a way to avoid typical sports movie clichés. There are not any last minute goals or shoot-outs that so commonly end these movies, and yet he is able to hold the viewer’s attention with a strong sense of anticipation.
Audiences will leave the theater feeling good, which is essentially what this typical Disney release comes down to: nothing special, nothing really thought-provoking, just a good, fun movie for all ages and 113 minutes of carefree fun. Don’t go to this one expecting to have your socks blown off, but it is certainly good for what it’s worth.