So you’ll have to excuse me right off the top here, as I’ve never written a movie review here and am basically fumbling around in the dark.
A couple weeks ago, I sent out a tweet asking when and where I would be able to see the stellar-reviewed Red Army documentary. My call was answered by none other than the director himself, Gabe Polsky, who was kind enough to send me a screener copy of it. So not only was I able to see it, I didn’t even have to put on pants!
And let me tell you, every review that was glowing about this documentary was 100% correct.
To label it just a hockey movie would be an injustice to all that’s going on here. While we’ve all gorged on Miracle or the HBO documentary about the Miracle On Ice, little do we get from the other side. In fact, in just cold war discussions we don’t hear much from the other side and the people involved, not so much those in power. This is the story that Red Army so expertly tells, through the members of the hallowed Red Army hockey team and specifically its captain in the 80’s, Slava Fetisov.
It’s especially fascinating for someone around my age, as when I became a hockey fan was just about the time the Russians started arriving in the NHL. And I can still distinctly remember they mystique they carried. Their personality, the way they played the game, their fit, everything. I remember when the Red Army team would come to play exhibitions against NHL teams, and these were big fucking occasions not just some annoyance on the NHL schedule. I remember the Stadium being sold out when they played the Hawks, and I remember a pretty uproarious atmosphere when the Hawks won. To see it from the other side… well, I really can’t describe it.
Back then, and maybe even still today, it felt like the Russians were viewed as automatons, simply built only to play hockey to prove their way of life was better. And that isn’t exactly far from the truth, but here we see the effect on them individually and their emotions and hardships, not just those doing the constructing. The cost on the people on the ground for the glory of those running the system in gargantuan, and this film helps at least attempt to get our arms around it.
The unquestioned star is Fetisov, and the whole thing starts with him flipping off the director. But he’s engaging, funny, wickedly intelligent, eloquent, passionate, and a whole bunch of other adjectives I can’t find at the moment. The story is told through him, his journey into, through, and out of the Red Army team. What it took, what it meant to him and others, the toll it exacted, where it left him, everything is in stark relief for all to see. Some of the stories of the training, you won’t believe.
I remember as a kid reading things and hearing people say what a shame it was that we didn’t get to see Fetisov in his prime in the NHL, though he was still an effective player into his 40s. It was the same with the KLM line of Krutov, Larianov, and Makarov. It always felt like, “If you only knew…” This is a chance to get to see some of that we missed out on when we were younger.
I can’t exaggerate how well Polsky and Fetisov color in the personality and humanity of those we thought for so long had neither here. And I bet it translates to every other facet of life in Soviet Russia. It just so happens this one’s about hockey. You really need to see it if you have the time. And luckily, there’s a page where you can find out where you can right here. Here in town it’s at The Music Box and AMC River East 21.
You should check out the whole site: Red Army Movie.
I’m hopeful that in the not too distant future we’ll have Polsky on this site and our publication as well, but he’s understandably very busy at the moment. I can’t thank him enough for letting me be a part of this, no matter how small.