By John Hodge
In 1980, the United States’ Men’s Ice Hockey team defeated the Soviet Union, beating all odds and doing what many believed to be impossible. Led by Captain Mike Eruzione and legendary Coach Herb Brooks, the boys in red, white, and blue entered the pages of sports history by doing what Al Michaels deemed, a “Miracle.”
The 2004 film, starring Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, and many more great talents, captured this unbelievable moment in history with grace and evocation. The inspiring score, composed by Mark Isham, elevates the drama to a new level, on which our hair stands up on our arms and our hearts beat a little faster. And Russell nails the role. From the accent to the swagger, from the intensity to the paternalistic love of his players, Russell has us hooked. We want him to win so damn much; it’s almost as if we are transported back in time to 1980, as if the stakes are still on the line, as if the score had not yet been settled. As if the outcome of that game, which was more than just that to so many people, had yet to be decided.
The emotional bond between each of the team’s players fantastically reinforces the height of the game’s stakes. As an audience, we come to love these guys because of how close they are with each other. We respect and admire the brotherhood they share. Mark Johnson (Eric Peter-Kaiser) puts it best: “We’re a family, Herb.” And because of this respect and admiration, we want them to win all the more. From playing backyard football in the snow on Christmas, to leaving every ounce of themselves out there on the ice, these men, portrayed phenomenally by actors like Patrick O’Brien Dempsey (Mike Eruzione)and Eddie Cahill (Jim Craig), make this game important to us.
Furthermore, this film wonderfully embodies the lesson that all sports are ultimately meant to teach: to collectively, as a team, give absolutely everything you have in your heart, and to know that you left nothing out there on that field, ice, court, or whatever the setting may be. This lesson can be taught in an unlimited number of ways; as long as you belong to a group of people who share a common goal and will do everything they can to achieve it, then you will learn it. I should clarify, as Herb does in “Miracle,” that achieving the goal, itself, is great, but not necessarily what is important. What’s important is discovering for yourself what you are truly capable of, realizing that you can push yourself farther than you ever imagined.
This is a movie that speaks to the notion that ordinary people, with extraordinary effort, can do unbelievable things. These guys were some of the best college hockey players in the country. But many were chosen for their intangibles, because they had played with each other in the past, because they had played against each other in the past, and because Herb Brooks saw something in them he didn’t see in anyone else. When it all boils down, we have to decide who we truly want to be, and how we want to be remembered. These men played for the greatest country in the world, the United States of America. Who do you play for?