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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Red Army is a documentary directed by Russian-American Gabe Polsky about the Soviet Union's legendary national ice hockey team from the '70s and '80s. It has extensive interviews (in English and subtitled Russian) with the most famous members of the Soviet team, particularly the legendary Russian Five, including Slava Fetisov, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Krutov, and hall-of-famer goalkeeper Vladislav Tretiak. The interviewees' language infrequently includes variations on the word "s--t" (shown in subtitles), and some of the hockey footage shows violent confrontations and plays -- even blood on the ice. But otherwise this is a fascinating documentary for any hockey, sports, or history fan.
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What's the story?
RED ARMY is a documentary about arguably the most dominant five-man unit in the history of professional hockey -- the Russian Five (defensemen Alexei Kasatonov and team captain Slava Fetisov, wings Vladimir Krutov and Sergei Makarov, and center Igor Larionov) -- and their time on the Soviet national hockey team under two vastly different head coaches. Russian-American filmmaker Gabe Polsky interviews the legendary Soviet players, most notably Fetisov; his best friend, Kasatonov; and goalkeeper Vladislav Tretiak, all of whom discuss how much they respected and admired their demanding but nurturing first coach, Anatoli Tarasov, and hated his successor, Viktor Tikhonov -- described as a domineering egomaniac. The players discuss everything from their years of training together and their devastating defeat in the "Miracle on the Ice" match in Lake Placid to the challenges of eventually playing for the NHL.
Is it any good?
This is an interesting and revealing film. Most American sports fans have heard about the famous "Miracle on the Ice" game during the 1980 Winter Olympics. There are movies, TV specials, and books dedicated to that single victory. But what most Americans don't know as much about is the Soviet team that the Americans defeated. Polsky introduces audiences to those players not as former Cold War enemies or rivals on the ice but as extraordinarily talented hockey players who changed the sport and impressed even the greatest of players, like Wayne Gretsky (who's shown in news footage), with their on-ice finesse and balletic choreography. The Russian Five, as the men and their opponents tell Polsky, were more than athletes; they were the symbolic epitome of Soviet system: working together as seemingly one mind. It's amazing, and even someone who doesn't care about hockey will find their story worth watching.
Fetisov is the primary interviewee, and as a captain of the Russian national hockey team and later an NHL player-turned-assistant coach, he's got a unique perspective on what made that Soviet team such a blessing (the other players) and a curse (Tikhonov, who refused to be interviewed for the film and died in late 2014). Red Army is structured chronologically, using Fetisov as the main protagonist. He's honest about how terrible their equipment was compared to that of the Canadian and American players and how awful it could be to only see his wife and family a couple of times a month, but he and his teammates are also nostalgic for the time in their lives when they played so beautifully that, decades later, they're still considered the best at what they did.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why sports movies -- both dramas and documentaries -- are so popular. What makes stories like Red Army about athletes and teams so compelling?
The Soviet teams were considered "the enemy" by the rest of the world once upon a time, but this documentary lets the team members tell their story. Does Red Army make you want to learn more about the Cold War and how sports played a role in it?
Discuss the differences between the way NHL players trained and played and the way the Russians trained and played. Do you think their way was healthy? Did it make them better or more dedicated players?
- In theaters: January 23, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: June 9, 2015
- Cast: Vyacheslav Fetisov, Scotty Bowman, Anatoli Karpov
- Director: Gabe Polsky
- Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, History
- Character Strengths: Teamwork
- Run time: 85 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic material and language
- Awards/Honors: Common Sense Seal
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