[box cover]

Miracle

The Disney film empire delivers plenty of new titles to theaters every year, but few of them actually get blessed with the Walt Disney signature logo above the marquee. The iconic flourish — one of the world's most recognizable marketing brands — reassures consumers that they are purchasing entertainment suitable for the entire family. And perhaps it's a good fit for Gavin O'Connor's hockey epic Miracle (2004), which recounts the U.S.A.'s stunning 1980 upset of the Soviet Union. After all, it's a story that's worth re-telling, for budding young athletes and patriotic older Americans alike. Then again, it also means that O'Connor's universe of passion and pain on the ice, with relentless coaching and intra-team rivalries, is told without one single four-letter word. It's been sanitized for your protection. Kurt Russell stars as legendary hockey coach Herb Brooks, who led his teams to several national championships at the University of Minnesota. A likely candidate to coach the U.S. hockey team at the upcoming Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, Brooks is picked by the Olympic Committee for the job. But it soon turns out that some of the committee's reservations were valid — Brooks refuses to consult with advisors when selecting his squad, and when he arrives at a list of 26 young men to train, some of the country's most talented players are absent. Brooks makes it clear that he's not assembling an all-star team, but instead that he's trying to craft the best single unit he can, and with one specific purpose: to beat the Soviet Union, a team that's taken gold in the past four Olympiads and remained unbeaten for more than a decade. And if that lofty goal seems somehow out of reach, Brooks is faced with more pressing matters — he still has to cut six men from his detail before the games, in the meantime rooting out the petty disputes, individualism, and slack training habits that prevent his diverse collection of players from skating as a team on the ice. Due to the filmmakers' commitment to realism in making Miracle, they were faced with two options when casting the movie — find actors who could learn to play hockey, or find hockey players who could passably act. Perhaps then it's no great credit to the thespian's craft that the former option was the more viable; simply put, hockey's tougher than theater, and a casting call of 3,000 players was whittled down to the film's cast of unknowns, a group of young guys who couldn't even get a reading without passing a demanding hockey tryout. Thankfully, it's all seamless, and while the sport never looks less than authentic, the actors' on-camera personalities feel natural and entirely unforced. However, they also do not carry the film's central burden, which falls to Kurt Russell. Miracle is essentially a one-person story — it's Herb Brooks against the entire world. The Soviets may represent the final hurdle, but they largely are a faceless opponent. Instead, Brooks finds himself butting heads with the Olympic Committee, growing distant from his wife (Patricia Clarkson), sometimes disagreeing with his assistant coach Craig Patrick (Noah Emmerich), and making sure his team always thinks of him as a coach and not a friend. Among the most underrated of American leading men, Russell plays it close to the vest — ensuring that he remains the unsentimental, rarely emotional core of a movie that's designed to unload sentimentality by the bucketload. Buena Vista's two-disc DVD release of Miracle features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Supplements on Disc One include "The Making of Miracle" (17 min.) and a commentary from director Gavin O'Connor, cinematographer Daniel Stoloff, and editor John Gilroy. Disc Two offers several additional items, including the featurette "From Hockey to Hollywood: Actors' Journeys" (27 min.), a "'Miracle' ESPN Roundtable with Linda Cohn" (41 min.), "The Sound of Miracle" (10 min.), "First Impressions: Herb Brooks with Kurt Russell and the Filmmakers" (4 min.), and outtakes (4 min.). Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.
—JJB



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