I would have rated this a 4.5 if possible. I stopped short of giving it a "5" mainly because I'd recently seen "Mystic River" and felt there's a level of excellence that this movie just doesn't quite achieve. I also wondered what the point was of including portions of President Carter's "Malaise" speech; historical perspective on just how desperate the country was for anything good? See the movie with your kids. As will most Disney productions, this is a movie the whole family (even Mom) can enjoy.
Kurt Russell is brilliant in this movie in such an understated way. He has the accent and mannerisms of Brooks down pat!
The truth was that the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team was so bad (in comparison to the Soviets who were so good because they had professional players) - that none of the other coaches really wanted to take the job. Brooks had something to prove at the Olympics, however.
And yes, this is a "feel-good" movie. It shows our country during a time when everyone banded together to pull for a team that seemingly didn't have a chance. Our country had been enemies with the Soviet Union for 30+ years at that time and we were very angry that the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan. This was MORE than about a hockey game! It was about national pride.
What I liked so much was that it wasn't some story that shows superhuman odds. Rather, it showed incredibly hard work and the adage that Brooks stated to his team, that basically the Soviets were a better team; they could play the Soviets 10 games and the Soviets would certainly win 9 out of the 10 games; but the USA only needed to win ONE GAME against them. This is the story of that one game and the immense dedicatation that led them there.
Knowing what is going to happen in "Miracle" is important because if we did not know that this team is going to win the gold medal then we might suspect the means that coach Herb Brooks (Kirk Russell) is using to achieve that end. Brooks is haunted by the 1960 Winter Olympics, when he was cut from the U.S. team a week before it won the gold medal. It was also the last year the Americans beat the Soviets on the ice and Brooks knows how to pull off the upset against the best hockey team on the planet. All it will take is a team that he handpicks playing the way he wants them to play.
The best part of this film is watching how Brooks does exactly that and then becomes basically a spectator and cheerleader when his team goes out and wins the gold medal. Director Gavin O'Connor hits a bulls eye with the casting of Russell, who should get serious Oscar consideration for his performance. The hard driven coach who puts his sport before his wife and family is something of a cliché, but what matters here is how Brooks' determination and intelligence comes through as he molds his team.
The production also scores because they went out and got hockey players to act instead of trying to fake us out the other way around. The only real professional actor on the team is Eddie Cahill, but he plays goalie Jim Craig. You can put anybody you want behind a mask in goal on the ice (former Edmonton Oilers' goalie Bill Ranford in fact) and because Craig was such high maintenance and high profile he was the one role where you needed to up the acting level. But Michael Mantenuto as Jack O'Callahan, Patrick O'Brien Dempsey as Mike Eruzione, Nathan West as Rob McLanahan, Eric Peter-Kaiser as Mark Johnson, and the other 15 players on the team are playing exactly what they are: hockey players brought together to create a team.
One thing I was surprised about in the film was that there is never an explicitly stated reason why Eruzione was picked as the team captain. Yet in the context of the film I was right in thinking that I knew exactly what Eruzione was going to do that was going to make him stand out as first among his teammates. (You will know what I am talking about when the moment comes).
The fidelity to recreating the moments we remember from the 1980 Olympics was quite impressive. You can check out the added features on this two-disc DVD set to see direct comparisons of the television footage from the actual games with the movie's re-creations as well as the techniques used to give you a dynamic feeling of being on the ice. Of course getting Al Michaels to "call" the games again was a necessity and it is not surprising that they worked in the original version of his famous line that gives the movie its title. You can re-create history but you cannot really improve on it, although this 2004 film does a nice job of trying to accomplish that particular feat. I just wonder if those who know nothing about what happened at Lake Placid in 1980 can appreciate that as much as those of us who do.