Red Army

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Will Web­ber

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.

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