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Despite being the most powerful nation on Earth, the United States and Americans love stories about underdogs. And if there is one genre of film that we have mastered, it is the inspirational sports film. Movies like Remember the Titans, The Rookie, The Natural, Hoosiers and Rudy are classic examples of a formula we are all familiar with but still love. Even though we know the outcome, particularly in the case of Miracle, the journey is still enjoyable enough to tug on the old patriotic heart strings.

In case you were high on coke during 1980 or just not old enough to remember, Miracle is based on the true story of a group of American college hockey players, hand-picked by coach Herb Brooks to face the most dominant hockey team to ever skate on Olympic ice, the Russians.

The result was a modern day David vs. Goliath story on a world stage. The USA was simply given no chance of winning against the Russians. Brooks redefined how Americans played hockey and how they trained for the games. The final result was the gold medal which had eluded Brooks himself when he was cut from the USA hockey team twenty years earlier.

Kurt Russell plays the part of Herb Brooks to perfection in one of the best acting roles he has had in years. Russell manages to portray Herb's tough love style of coaching as well as obsession with winning the gold medal while maintaining a likeability that other actors may not have been able to pull off. Russell is the cornerstone to the quality of Miracle, just as Brooks was to the real event 24 years ago.

Patricia Clarkson helps carry the acting load as Patty Brooks, Herb's wife. While her role is not large, Clarkson shines on the screen with each scene. It's easy to see why she's nominated for an Academy Award this year for Pieces of April.
A coach so great he could draw plays in thin air.

Since the story follows the team from Herb's point of view, the audience never gets to learn more than superficial details about the characters that make up the team. While hockey fans will recognize players' names, average audience members will have little to identify characters other than "guy with moustache" and "guy with attitude problem."

The one exception is "guy that plays goalie" Jim Craig, played by Eddie Cahill. The film captures Craig's struggle with the untimely loss of his mother, shadowing everything he accomplishes with the team, and, for a while at least, holding him back. Just as Cahill himself is the lone "real actor" on the team, Craig became the lone breakout, mainstream star of the US hockey team.

In what turned out to be a smart move, the members of the team are not played by professional actors but rather by real life hockey players that were instructed in acting. This yields some great hockey action on screen that might have not been otherwise possible without Hollywood magic.

But Miracle is more than just a good sports movie. The film tries to capture the atmosphere of the time as much as the game itself. Americans were in desperate need of a morale boost after Watergate, Three Mile Island, a national gas shortage, American hostages being held in Iran and a growing cold war with Russia. The US hockey team became heroes and idols when America needed them most.

Given today's current social and political climate, we need them again. Miracle is a quality movie at the right time. Will it change the mood of America or turn the tide of American political cynicism? Nope. But it will have more than a few moviegoers teary eyed and applauding in their seats.

Great acting, great action, seamless storytelling and fantastic source material make this the best movie of 2004 thus far.


Michael Goodson

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