Director: Gabe Polsky
Original Release: 2014
Choice: My Wife's
My Overall Rating: 5 stars out of 5
The Soviet Red Army ice hockey team was, for decades, the best in the world. Between 1954 and 1990, they won the world championship 22 times and never failed to medal at the Olympics, winning seven golds. In the United States, their most famous game is the one they lost to what should have been an over-matched band of American college players in Lake Placid in 1980. In learning the history of the Red Army hockey team, one realizes why that game deserves its reputation as the great David-Goliath moment in American sports. Goliath, however, has quite a tale to tell.
Red Army covers the tail end of the team's history. Most of the story is told from the perspective of Viacheslav Fetisov, legendary defenseman and longtime captain of the Soviet team. In addition to being an extraordinary hockey squad, the Red Army team was an instrument of propaganda, meant to demonstrate the inherent superiority of communism to the rest of the world. Pressure to win and, of course, to prevent the best players from defecting to play in the NHL came from the highest levels of government. As with the rest of society, the needs of the individual were subjugated to the interests of the state. Fetisov and his mates were proud to play for team and country but the severe limits on personal freedom were difficult to bear.
The indie theaters have been promoting this movie for quite a while so our expectations were high. To be honest, given my interest in the subject matter, a 4-star rating was a guaranteed minimum. As it turned out, I needn't have worried about any potential disappointment. Even for a non-fan like my wife, the film is highly engaging, the principal characters distinctly drawn. While Fetisov comes off as an arrogant jerk at times - he flicks off the director in the early stages of the interview - he is the ideal vessel for the story, conveying an exquisite balance of the pride and anguish of his experience. Extensive film footage and interviews of other top players round out this powerful film, a must-see for anyone interested in hockey, the Cold War or well-made documentaries.