Miracle

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Miracle

Cast:

For anyone hoping that Miracle, the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's upset victory over the Soviet Union at Lake Placid, would not be waist-deep in Americana, the opening credits get things off to a dispiriting start. The long social-change montage sequence sums up a turbulent decade with headlines and images of Vietnam, Watergate, women's lib, the Cold War, test-tube babies, gas shortages, and disco fluttering by like symptoms of a sick nation. The filmmakers imply that America needed this team to lift its "malaise" and get the country believing again, but no amount of Billy Beer could make such sentimental hogwash easier to swallow. Whenever Miracle reaches for social context, usually through some crudely integrated news bulletin about gas lines or the hostage crisis, it plays like warmed-over propaganda, meant to inspire a new generation of disillusioned patriots. Only when it sticks to the X's and O's of the game itself does the film become genuinely rousing, because a true story this spectacular doesn't need to be goosed up. For the most part, director Gavin O'Connor (Tumbleweeds) succeeds in steering away from the jingoistic possibilities, but he can't animate the individual players who compose the team's giant gob of tough, beer-swilling amateurs. With eagle eyes, a brusque manner, and some of the most hideous suits in sports history, a winning Kurt Russell plays Herb Brooks, the former University of Minnesota coach who served as the team's chief architect. In the days before Dream Teams, when the Eastern Bloc dominated world hockey, Brooks had seven months to mold a ragtag group of college players into a team good enough to save the U.S. from embarrassment. Against all odds, Brooks brought the U.S. into the medal round, where it faced an overpowering Russian squad that whipped it 10-3 in an exhibition match held a few days before the Olympics. It's a broadcasting cliché to say "You couldn't have drawn it up any better," but the great thing about this story is that the Rocky formula has a Cinderella fit. How can red-blooded American sports fans hear the famous call ("Mike Eruzione, Mike Eruzione, scooooorrre!") and not get chills down their spines? But most of Miracle's elements have zero emotional register: the goalie (Eddie Cahill) playing for his deceased mother, the domestic squabbles between Russell and his wife (Patricia Clarkson), and all that peripheral business about a country in decline. But once these players strap on their skates and take to the ice, it's hard to suppress that lump in the throat.