Gabe Polsky’s electrifying look at a once-unbeatable Soviet hockey team and the link between sports and politics isn’t among the Oscar nominees for Best Documentary. But Red Army deserves a big boo-yah from audiences for being illuminating and hugely entertaining. And if some of the talk is in Russian, live with it.
In 2004’s Miracle, with Kurt Russell, we saw how a U.S. team of underdogs defeated the Soviets at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. Red Army gives us the Soviet side of that “Miracle on Ice,” and it’s an eye-opener.
Polsky could not have found a better no-bull narrator than Slava Fetisov, the Russian team captain who later defected to the West. Fetisov’s tales of what his dream team suffered under party-line coach Viktor Tikhonov sound less like training sessions than hard time in a gulag. Even when Fetisov and his team reunite in the 1990s to win back-to-back Stanley Cups for the Detroit Red Wings, they still get dissed as balletic robots. Polsky takes a jaunty approach, but the thorny subject of what constitutes national identity comes through loud and clear.