(Originally posted on 2/29/04)
The prime marvel of Miracle isn’t the true-life victory of the 1980 Olympic hockey team – although the film’s recreation of that signature Cold War moment is plenty stirring – but rather Kurt Russell’s grizzled, vigorous performance as team captain Herb Brooks. Russell’s Brooks has an unflappable confidence (despite his horribly goofy late ‘70s helmet haircut), and the actor effortlessly avoids his role’s potential for mawkishness by basing Brooks’ motivation to win Olympic gold in burdensome regret. Russell has the steeliest glare since Charles Bronson, and when he forces his team to perform line sprints in the dark after a listless qualifying-round performance, his squinty blue gaze conveys an unsentimental, and somewhat unattractive, fanaticism. Yet by raising his eyebrows and widely opening his eyes during conversation with wife Patty, Russell’s face becomes so invitingly warm and friendly that it’s hard to believe he’s the same man who moments earlier looked ready to break a player’s leg for failing to score a goal. Director Gavin O’Connor (working from a cliché-lite script by Eric Guggenheim) is a little too taken with Mark Isham’s bombastic score, but he does a smooth job placing the USA team’s accomplishment in a historical context. Through an opening montage and other occasional references, we’re educated about the nerve-rattling events (the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; the oil shortage; the Iranian hostage crises) that had the country primed for this unlikely underdog victory against the fearsome Soviet hockey juggernaut. As the final horn sounds on Team USA’s improbable achievement, Al Michaels, with the sound of both elation and disbelief in his voice, shouts, “Do you believe in miracles?” Personally, I don’t think I do. But I do believe in the greatness of Kurt Russell.