Community Post: This article was submitted by a member of our community. Find out how you can publish your own writing here!
When you think of hockey, Canada comes to mind. After all, to most Americans, that’s all our neighbors to the north have to offer: maple syrup, moose and the NHL. While hockey is was born up north, for most of the 70’s and 80’s, the Russian national team dominated in every possible way. They just never had a chance to showcase their skills in the West thanks to a little thing called the Cold War.
In Red Army, director Gabe Polsky not only paints a vivid picture of life in the Soviet sports system, ties the national game to the international politics for which they served. The result is a punchy, poignant depiction of the Russian hockey team, the players who fled and their ties to national pride.
The documentary centers on the testimony of Slava Fetisov, legendary captain of the Russian national hockey team and one of the first defectors to the NHL. As the film’s “star”, Slava is played as a likable curmudgeon. Opinionated with a chip on his shoulder, Slava swings from poignant anecdotes to complete disdain for the doc’s filmmakers. He’s equal parts fun to watch and highly informative.
He’s also brutally honest about his experiences both home and in the NHL. As one of the first Russian players to defect, Slava has a unique perspective on playing in a league dominated by North Americans. His thoughts on going from the best team in the world to the worst in the NHL are a testament to the risk these trailblazers took in the quest for a better life.
The film also has a natural villain in Viktor Tikonov. The KGB agent turned hockey coach is painted as the brutal task master behind the Russian’s historic success. While Tikonov (who has since passed away) declined to be in the film, accounts from former players, most of which still unwilling to speak badly against the Russian government, prove his ruthlessness.
The best thing about Red Army is it’s not really a sports movie. It’s one of the best examples of Cold War fanaticism and fear I’ve seen in quite some time. Hockey was an expression of power for the Soviet Union and Polsky wisely makes this the center of attention as opposed to the sport itself. It’s all a giant metaphor for the conflict.
Polsky wraps the political intrigue in a well-crafted, if not slightly biased, filmmaking package. The pacing is spot on, the camera lingers on emotional moments and the overall presentation is varied and engaging.
That doesn’t mean the sport itself takes a back seat. Watching the Russian national team literally skate circles around their American and Canadian counterparts is awe inspiring. I’ve been a hockey fan since I was nine but watching legends like Igor Larionov and Sergei Makarov reinvent the sport is an absolute joy.
Even if you’ve never heard of the names I just mentioned, Red Army is still a must watch documentary. The stress and grind of the 80’s era Soviet Union is perfectly captured by Polsky’s patient, yet occasionally one sided hand. Add to the mix a great central subject in Slava Fetisov and you have a doc that caters to hockey fans and history buffs alike. A satisfying and intriguing portrait of Cold War era Russia and the sport that personified it
Community Post: This article was submitted by a member of our community. The views expressed are the opinions of the designated author, and do not reflect the opinions of the Overmental as a whole or any other individual. We will gladly cooperate in the removal of plagiarism or any copyright infringement. Please contact us here.
Full of excellent, insightful interviews. Well-paced. Designed to educate hockey fans and history buffs alike.
Slightly one sided in favor of the defectors.