Red Army , documentary, rated PG, in English and Russian with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 4 chiles
This fascinating in-depth documentary produced, written, and directed by Gabe Polsky takes an unflinching look at the dominance of Red Army, the national Soviet hockey team that was toppled by American college players in what was dubbed the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. Red Army chronicles the creation, construction, and eventual collapse of the powerful club whose success stretched more than a generation and dominated the game on a global scale.
The film begins with a black-and-white propaganda clip narrated by a young Ronald Reagan. Staring straight into the camera, he employs scare tactics to illustrate the dangers of Communism and the threat to a democratic way of life. Polsky uses archival footage, mixing it with grainy color clips from the past, to full effect. He shows elementary-school-aged Soviet kids sacrificing everything to become part of the country’s elite hockey program. The filmmaker includes modern-day footage of interviews with key members of the team, featuring the famed five players from the late 1970s and early ‘80s, who were the heart and soul of the club.
The exhaustive research done for this film largely centers around defenseman Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov, a man many hockey experts consider to be the best player of his position. Fetisov’s journey from an aspiring young hockey player to a man broken by political strife is riveting. Polsky visits Fetisov’s childhood home, a 400-square-foot apartment, which his family shared with two other families, integrating these shots with file footage of young boys grinding through endless workouts in exclusive camps run by the government.
Later in life, Fetisov recounts the strain of living and training full-time for almost 11 months a year in a secluded camp, working out as much as four times a day under the heavy hand of a brutal coach. Players were denied time off to attend funerals or raise children. This kind of dedication paid off with nearly 30 years of world championships, gold medals, and unmatched success for the team. The Red Army team became the strongest sports dynasty of all time. But, like the USSR, the team eventually caved as Communism fell to capitalism.
Fetisov was among the first Russians to play in the National Hockey League. He and his comrades found the going rough in the first few years. It wasn’t until a handful of them signed with the Detroit Red Wings that their mastery of their game finally paid off. They led the Red Wings to the Stanley Cup, a triumph that was one of the sports highlights of the last 25 years.
Polsky wonderfully humanizes the players who lived under the harshness of the Communist regime. The film hits its mark in showing that, as much as the players despised the system in which they were raised, they remained loyal to the relationships they forged and happy about the success they enjoyed.
Slice and dice on ice: Russia plays the U.S.