Unbeknownst to me, the world of international ice hockey was dominated throughout the 1970s by the Russians. In fact, by the time the 1980 Winter Olympics was looming, they looked unbeatable. That was the scenario facing head coach Herb Brooks (played by Kurt Russell), and it was a scenario that led to some major changes in the way that the team was picked and trained.
Based on a true story, this is typical live-action Disney fare. It starts off with Herb applying for, and getting, the head coach position before then showing him selecting his team of young players, working them harder than they've ever been worked before, trying out some unusual tactics and then seeing how things pan out as they play on the national stage.
Director Gavin O'Connor, working from the script by Eric Guggenheim, hits all of the right notes at all of the right moments (just as he would a few years later with Warrior). This is a tale of self-belief, of courage, of sportsmanship and of, well, ice hockey.
Russell is great in the lead role and he gets to work alongside some wonderful talent. Patricia Clarkson plays his supportive wife, Noah Emmerich is an assistant coach who initially doubts his methods and Kenneth Welsh is the team doctor. The young hockey players consist of men picked predominantly for their hockey skills - Eddie Cahill, Patrick O'Brien Demsey and Michael Mantenuto being the three team players who get the most screentime. Thankfully, you wouldn't know that because they do a fine job, although perhaps that IS because they spend a lot of time ice-skating.
This isn't a film for cynics, few Disney films are. There are no surprises here, what with it being based on a true story, but even if you're unfamiliar with what really happened, as I was, then . . . . . . there are no surprises here. It also lacks much humour. This isn't The Mighty Ducks and it seems as if O'Connor wanted to make sure that nobody watching the film would ever forget that. He succeeded. Whereas The Mighty Ducks was a family movie full of great characters and fun moments, this is an uplifting true story, full of good acting, suitable musical accompaniment and a big dollop of good ol' hey hey USA. I prefer the former type of movie myself, but this one is also a good watch.