February 16, 2004 12:00 PM

Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Eddie Cahill


For those familiar with ice hockey from the Mighty Ducks series of bumbling-kids-on-skates comedies, welcome to the real thing. Miracle is an ice-solid, though never sparkling, look at how the late coach Herb Brooks, who died in an auto accident last August, selected and trained 20 young men for what would become the U.S.’s 1980 gold-medal-winning Olympic hockey team. “I’m not looking for the best players,” Brooks (Russell, see p. 69) tells assembled hopefuls. “I’m looking for the right players.”

He found ’em. The movie shows how Brooks, using a strenuous training regime and psychological smarts, molded a team capable of beating the seemingly invincible Soviet hockey machine. Director Gavin O’Connor (Tumbleweeds) deftly frames the team’s efforts within a political and social context, but even so, Miracle doesn’t always transcend sports-film clichés. Though Russell and Clarkson (who plays Brooks’s wife) both act with snap and conviction, the individual players remain sketchy, and the big game with the Russians goes on for what seems, at least to a non-hockey fan, like a mighty long, long time. (PG)

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