on February 06, 2004 by Michael Tunison
There are stories so inherently dramatic and cinematic that not even Hollywood needs to exaggerate them, and one of them is the U.S. hockey team's legendary underdog triumph at the 1980 Winter Olympics. While not particularly ambitious as a human drama or character study, Disney's “Miracle” succeeds solidly at its main aim: stirringly recreating one of the great sports sagas of all time. And unlike the come-from-behind heroes of '80, it's a winner from the opening drop of the puck.

In one of the juiciest non-action roles of his career, onetime Disney child star Kurt Russell plays coach Herb Brooks, whose Ahab-like obsession with molding a team capable of challenging the seemingly unbeatable Russian world champions leads him to adopt unorthodox strategies both on and off the ice. Players such as goalie Jim Craig (Eddie Cahill from TV's “Friends”) and eventual team captain Mike Eruzione (Patrick O'Brien Demsey) struggle with their own issues as Brooks' punishing training program prepares them for their appointment with destiny in Lake Placid.

Director Gavin O'Connor (“Tumbleweeds”) and screenwriter Eric Guggenheim do such a good job of setting up the virtual invincibility of the veteran Russian team that even those who remember the 1980 Games (or the 1981 TV movie on the same subject, “Miracle on Ice”) may find it hard to believe the Americans will be able to pull off a “Rocky” in the picture's final minutes. The filmmakers also go to great pains to establish the downbeat national mood in the post-Vietnam, post-Watergate late '70s, when events such as the hostages in Iran and gas crisis had Americans craving hopeful news of any sort. O'Connor pulls off a Herb Brooks-style stunt in getting credible dramatic performances from the set of real-life hockey players and other screen newcomers cast as the U.S. team members – most of whom, including Cahill and Demsey, are making their movie debuts. Starring Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Eddie Cahill, Patrick O'Brien Demsey, Michael Mantenuto and Nathan West. Directed by Gavin O'Connor. Written by Eric Guggenheim. Produced by Mark Ciardi and Gordon Gray. A Buena Vista release. Drama. Rated PG for language and some rough sports action. Running time: 135 min

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