Sunday, March 29, 2015

Family Movie Night: Red Army

Title: Red Army
Director: Gabe Polsky
Original Release: 2014
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5

The Soviet Red Army ice hockey team was, for decades, the best in the world.  Between 1954 and 1990, they won the world championship 22 times and never failed to medal at the Olympics, winning seven golds.  In the United States, their most famous game is the one they lost to what should have been an over-matched band of American college players in Lake Placid in 1980.  In learning the history of the Red Army hockey team, one realizes why that game deserves its reputation as the great David-Goliath moment in American sports. Goliath, however, has quite a tale to tell.



Red Army covers the tail end of the team's history.  Most of the story is told from the perspective of Viacheslav Fetisov, legendary defenseman and longtime captain of the Soviet team.  In addition to being an extraordinary hockey squad, the Red Army team was an instrument of propaganda, meant to demonstrate the inherent superiority of communism to the rest of the world.  Pressure to win and, of course, to prevent the best players from defecting to play in the NHL came from the highest levels of government.  As with the rest of society, the needs of the individual were subjugated to the interests of the state.  Fetisov and his mates were proud to play for team and country but the severe limits on personal freedom were difficult to bear.

The indie theaters have been promoting this movie for quite a while so our expectations were high.  To be honest, given my interest in the subject matter, a 4-star rating was a guaranteed minimum.  As it turned out, I needn't have worried about any potential disappointment.  Even for a non-fan like my wife, the film is highly engaging, the principal characters distinctly drawn.  While Fetisov comes off as an arrogant jerk at times - he flicks off the director in the early stages of the interview - he is the ideal vessel for the story, conveying an exquisite balance of the pride and anguish of his experience.  Extensive film footage and interviews of other top players round out this powerful film, a must-see for anyone interested in hockey, the Cold War or well-made documentaries.

18 comments:

  1. I am not one for sports themes but this does sound intriguing. I think we had a big deal back in 1972. Of course I have no memory of it and I know next to nothing regarding sports. My brother is the expert in this. He remembers being in class and the game being played over the PA system. I should tell him about this film. He works for the Minor Hockey league sports, um, thingy (see how bad I am) in Niagara Falls. I bet he would enjoy this film allot.

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    1. For any hockey fan, this one's a must see. He should definitely watch it.

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  2. I remember a film that was on TV about the Russian Hockey team. But it just could have been one of the Olympic hype TV movies.
    This sounds so much better.
    I remember when everyone thought it was so strange that everyone on the Russian team was in the Army. And everyone from America were really not in the NHL.
    I remember this game it was beyond great. We were all yelling and jumping up and down.
    Remember all the East German women who won every thing in swimming ?
    They took so many steroids that they never had any sort of life after.
    Some times in the quest to prove that the superiority of Communism it destroyed the people who worked for it.

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. China's still using a lot of the same tactics the Eastern Bloc countries were. Let us not pretend, however, that there's not a seamier side to athletic competition in democratic capitalist societies, too. It often feels like the NFL is one investigative journalist away from implosion.

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  3. Sports are not a big focus of mine (unless I gave birth to a player...right now, my only player is a violinist). After reading your post, I'm going to watch this one.

    Most of the documentary type films I love are those that get inside a person's head or tell how they got from A to B. I admit that I look at most celebrities and sports figures and ask: "How did you get there?"

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    1. Sports are, at least in theory, a strict meritocracy. The better players win. Success brings attention. Attention brings opportunities. And so on. Talent and work ethic set the stars apart from the pretenders. That's not to say, however, that luck doesn't play a role.

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  4. This sounds very interesting. The US win in the Olympics is one of my favorite sports moments.

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    1. Sports Illustrated recently did a greatest moment in the history of sports survey. Miracle on Ice won. It wasn't even close. 35 years later, that game still resonates.

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  5. I'm surprised your wife picked it, but it sounds like a winner! The Olympics are always fascinating stories.

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    1. She is often just on the verge of becoming a hockey fan, especially when her team - Chicago Blackhawks - is doing well. The promotional campaign for Red Army, though, was really strong and I think most non-hockey fans would enjoy it.

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  6. I loved this post. My fav past time is watching it all on TV.

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    1. Are you a fan of hockey? The Olympics? Both?

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  7. I know a little about hockey, but some of my friends are huge fans. This sound like a great movie and one that I could enjoy with them. Loved hearing that your wife enjoyed it too! Awesome review. :)
    ~Jess

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  8. Thiking about hockey means only one thing to me: Mystery, Alaska. Loved that movie, still do

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    1. I've never seen it. Sounds like fun, though - quite the big name cast.

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  9. I'm not a hockey or sports person, but I like a good documentary.

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    1. I can assure you, my wife really isn't either but she thoroughly enjoyed this movie.

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