Sports has been one of the many casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic. While no one would count the loss of sports among the biggest casualties, or the return of sports a top priority, its absence is definitely making the heart grow fonder. Never in my life has there been a period without sports. It’s always been the great escape for whatever is ailing the world, for myself and so many others. Which makes it odder is to not have it when a distraction is needed now more than ever. So, while there are much bigger things in the world than sports, I still have to admit…man, I miss sports. So here at MovieBabble, we are coping with this by revisiting some classic sports movies!
This time without sports has certainly been strange. We’re looking anywhere and everywhere to satisfy our craving for it. While documentaries, classic games, and celebrity golf face-offs (I watched almost every shot of “The Match”) are bringing some relief, there’s something else that could help. Sports movies are getting some run from the broadcast channels and now seems like the perfect time to revisit some of the best ones. With sports still weeks away at best, I wanted to revisit some of my favorite sports films and scratch this itch by going back to some of the best sports movies out there.
As of this writing, we would be right in the heat of the NHL playoffs, one of the most exhilarating and exciting sporting events to watch. So, the perfect start for this series is Miracle, the 2004 Disney retelling of the “Miracle on Ice” directed by Gavin O’Connor.
Disney is no stranger to the sports movie genre. From the straight-to-TV classics of my youth, like Motocrossed and Double Teamed, to the star-studded nationwide releases like Remember the Titans and Secretariat, Disney has shown a deft hand at making satisfying films in the genre. It comes from an understanding of people’s connection with movies and sports then marrying them together. It’s a rather simple formula that preys on our love of the underdog. And there is no underdog in American sports history more meaningful than the 1980 US Olympic hockey team. Upsetting the seemingly unbeatable Russian national team in the semifinals is a story made for Disney‘s formula.
Miracle is just a good film, all around. The detail and commitment to honor the true story are evident and well-executed. Innovatively clever cinematography and direction bring the hockey aspect to life in an extraordinary way. You can feel the speed of the game, which helps to create an immersive environment. While the performances aren’t much to write home about, they perfectly serve the story. No one (other than Kurt Russell) really stands out, which keeps the focus on the story. That’s really at the heart of the quality of this film: everything serves the story and does so quite well. It’s because of this, that the emotion lands so beautifully. You feel the moment, you’re on the ice with the team and in the stands with the fans. The tension rattles, and the victory excites you. When Disney is operating at its best, you can feel the moment, and Miracle brings one of the greatest sports moments in history to life in a very effective way.
Background and Stats
- Released on February 6th, 2004
- $64,000,000 worldwide on a $28,000,000 budget
- 68 Metascore/81% Rotten Tomatoes
- No Oscars, Golden Globes, or BAFTAs, but it did receive a Critics Choice nomination for the best live-action family film and an ESPY win for the best sports film
- Rogerebert.com gave it 2 stars (a review by Roger Ebert himself)
- Favorite Review Quote — Kenneth Turan, LA Times: “Powered by an excellent Kurt Russell performance, Miracle treats old-fashioned, emotional material with an intelligence that respects both the story and the audience.”
Let’s Talk about that Cast
Kurt Russell leads a cast full of names that are rather unfamiliar, even 16 years later. This is by design and quite effective. Instead of casting the best actors, Gavin O’Connor, the producers, and casting directors Sarah Finn and Randi Hiller sought out hockey players. Most of the players on the team are actual hockey players and this helps to add authenticity to the on-ice action. This leaves the heavy lifting to Kurt Russell and Noah Emmerich, who both play the coaches of the national team (Herb Brooks and Craig Patrick respectively). Emmerich is solid, but it’s Russell that really shines.
Behind an intense glare for most of the film, Russell delivers a strong performance. He carries the film from a star power aspect, and is simply very good. Patricia Clarkson is the supportive wife character and is given mostly just one scene to stand out, but unfortunately, there just isn’t much more for her to do, which is a shame because she’s a wonderful actress. Overall, this cast works because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Russell is the star but also blends into the ensemble. This is an ensemble story so it’s only right that the film is the same.
With the accuracy of the retelling and the execution of this moment, it’s easy to overlook how the hockey itself is shot. Cinematographer Dan Stoloff and Gavin O’Connor do an impressive job shooting the hockey. Using a collection of techniques, which include skaters pushing the camera on a modified sled, a cameraman using a handheld skating through the scene and above the ice wires (similar to what they use in football games now), to bring the hockey to life in a very real way. You won’t see hockey like this, even 16 years later. It’s typically shot from above and outside the rink, for obvious reasons, so this change is a dash of realism that you just can’t experience anywhere else. Being on the ice in this way is immersive and thrilling. It elevates the overall experience of the whole film and makes it more authentic.
Favorite Sports Moment
- First Practice Montage
- First Game vs Norway
- Second Practice Montage
- The US vs Sweden
- Pregame vs USSR
- Final 10 Minutes of US vs USSR
I want to do the cool, clickbaity blogger thing where I pick something different from the obvious, but I just can’t. The entire final game against the USSR is remarkable, but the final 10 minutes is just extraordinary. It’s easily the best part of the film, and the most important. Everything in the film builds up to this and the tension is incredible. The quick cutting and announcing pour even more tension onto an already tense situation. Most remarkably is this tension existing despite knowing exactly what happens, which is a huge credit to the filmmaking. When the final seconds tick off, you can’t help but be excited. This is the greatest moment of the film and American hockey, and because of some great filmmaking, we get close to experiencing what that moment was like.
No Way, They’re in This!?
Eddie Cahill as Jim Craig
This choice comes with a not so shameful revelation. I am one of the many that enjoyed CSI when it started. While the original CSI: Las Vegas was the Thursday night show of choice (following Survivor) for my mom and me, CSI: New York was my personal favorite. I still love Sela Ward to this day because of that show, and of course, her run on House. CSI: New York was my first binge show. I would watch hours of this show back to back, when I couldn’t sleep, was bored, or just needed to solve a crime. Among the many actors that I became a fan of because of this show, is Eddie Cahill. My fandom is tied to his run on that show and he will always be “the guy from CSI: New York” to me. I always forget he’s in this film and every time I see him, I light up because it reminds me of my time with CSI: New York.
What I Would Take Out
It’s hard to take something out of a movie like this, especially when they worked really hard to be as true to the story and people as possible. However, according to a roundtable some of the actual members of the team did together, there is one scene that is not true to Herb Brooks, the Christmas Party scene. His players joke at that roundtable that he would never do that, and it’s because of this that I would take this scene out. With it being outside his character, I don’t quite know the purpose of the scene. We see the camaraderie of the players on the team, but that can be done elsewhere, which makes this scene purposeless.
“Do you believe in Miracles!?”
No other choice can be made here, but (as standard with Disney movies, especially sports movies) there are plenty of others. After the game in Norway, when they are skating as punishment, is one of the better ones. It’s a collection of a lot of feelings and is definitely a turning point in the film. The pregame scene before the climatic USSR game is in second place for this award. It’s beautifully captured and preps you for what is to come. The tension is thick and envelops you in that environment. It’s almost uncomfortable how much tension is in this scene. But both of those contenders fall short to “do you believe in miracles” because it’s one of the most iconic moments and broadcast calls of all time. Just thinking about it gives me chills. This film brings that to life so beautifully, so there can be no other choice in this category.
This is another choice with a clear winner. Gavin O’Connor does a great job directing this film and the supporting cast pulls their weight, but Kurt Russell is the big takeaway (apart from the “Miracle on Ice” itself). He is genuinely great in this film. It’s a very different performance from him, from what I’ve seen. He really goes for it and loses himself in the Herb Brooks character. It’s not a big role, which allows for his natural charisma to shine, and that carries the film. I love his performance in this because it’s subtle and understated, and that shows the full range of talents. Miracle is obviously about the “do you believe in miracles” moment, but it’s Kurt Russell that holds until then.
Did I Get My Fix?
Yes, very much so. What I miss about live sports in the adrenaline rush that comes from the big moments. I love playoff hockey because the tension (especially in the third period) is so intense. I’m on the edge of my seat constantly, and those thrills and excitement are what I’m missing. Miracle recreates that and does so quite effectively. By the end credits, I was left with the high that comes with a thrilling sporting event, and at this time that is greatly appreciated.
I love this movie for the reason I believe it was made. I’m only 33. I wasn’t close to being born when the “Miracle on Ice” took place. When I began to fall in love with sports, I was aware of it, but only on an intellectual level. Outside of reading or watching a grainy video, the “Miracle on Ice” was nothing more than a story to me. Gavin O’Connor brings this story to life. I get to see what it was like for this team and the people that cheered them on. There is a fuller picture of the odds they were facing and get a taste for the utter joy that was experienced with that clock ticked down to zero. I will never have the experience of witnessing this legend take place, but this movie is the next best thing. For that, I will always love this movie.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on Miracle? Comment down below!
If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to MovieBabble via email to stay up to date on the latest content.
Join MovieBabble on Patreon so that new content will always be possible.