Kurt Russell is the true miracle of Miracle. As Herb Brooks, the middle-aged ice hockey coach who leads the United States to gold medal victory at the 1980 Winter Olympics, the actor struts and screams like a small town Patton with nary a false gesture. Russell’s grizzled, masculine face, fresh with the wrinkles of life experience, ably cuts against Miracle’s by-the-numbers heartstring tugging. As Russell observes at one point, “I don’t do sentimental speeches.” From his lips to our ears, it’s as truthful a declaration of male emotion as the cinema can give. At its heart, Miracle is a sublime love story. The love of a game brings out primal emotions the characters (and we viewers) might otherwise keep hidden. But only Russell portrays this unique eroticism to its iconic fullness. As John Carpenter foresaw, Russell is a modern day parallel to John Wayne—like the Duke, the actor wears his physical agedness as an emotionally complex suit of armor. Russell’s Brooks is a great, effortless performance in an unfortunately unsupportive film. The primary problem, as is often the case in an alarming number of today’s movies, is visual. Director Gavin O’Connor and cinematographer Dan Stoloff chose to photograph Miracle in widescreen Scope, and it’s a very dull, obvious use of the format. Extreme close-ups abound with backgrounds constantly out of focus as if to hide the rather shoddy period production values. The distinct lack of a coherent visual space keeps the film consistently earthbound, a supreme disappointment considering the promise of the simple, spirited title. Also problematic is the filmmakers’ literal presentation of Miracle’s time and place. The use of superimposed text and sound-bite montages to quickly contextualize world events of the period (the gas crisis, the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan, etc.), forces misguided nostalgia and threatens an offensive historical whitewash. That this precarious structure never fully topples is a testament to Russell’s presence and talent. It’s all too easy for wartime stories to become unwitting, one-sided propaganda, but Russell anchors Miracle in ways that transcend unilateral politics and achieve a viewer-conversant three dimensions. It’s a small personal victory, but still one to be noted. Through Russell, for one miraculous moment, we all stand united.
Because Miracle was meant to look like it was made in 1980, it'd be silly to harp on the quality of this transfer: Dirt and flecks are present throughout the opening sequence and grain is noticeable throughout the rest of the film. But while there's a muted quality to the transfer that does justice to the tone of the film, the occasional shimmering effect and color bleeding does not. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is top-of-the-line. Plop in disc two and watch "The Sound of Miracle" to understand how those killer surrounds came to fruition.
A banal assortment of featurettes highlight this DVD edition of Miracle. Well, maybe not so much banal as excessively reverential. Disc one includes a very nice commentary track by director Gavin O'Connor, editor John Gilroy, and director of photography Daniel Stoloff. Over two hours, they talk about the film's "hope themes," their favorite sequences (O'Connor's is the seminal scene in the film where Russell's character skates his team really hard), and just how much they loved Herb Brooks. Rounding out disc one is the 18-minute featurette "The Making of Miracle" and trailers for the upcoming Aladdin DVD, Around the World in 80 Days, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen, The Three Musketeers (starring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy), The Lion King 2: Simba's Pride, and Teacher's Pride. Disc two frustratingly begins with a video clip of Russell calling his team to the ice. You will get to know this clip very well over the course of several hours, as it plays every singl time you click on a featurette. The best of the featurettes is "From Hockey To Hollywood: The Actors' Journey," which allows casting coach Randi Hiller to explain the "numbers game" that went into casting the film's hockey-players-cum-actors. Hardcore fans of the film and Herb Brooks will also get a kick out of the ESPN Roundtable with Linda Cohn, featuring Russell and real-life winning members Buzz Schneider, Jim Craig, and coach Mike Eruzione. And in addition to "The Sound of Miracle," rounding out the disc is a series of outtakes and a collection of "First Impressions" footage of Brooks's first encounters with O'Connor and Russell.
Oh Herb can you see, by the dawn's early light. What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?