Monday, November 02, 2015

Red Army

Written and directed by Gabe Polsky, Red Army is the story about one of the greatest hockey teams in the entire world as it’s told by the men who were part of a dynasty that had dominated the sport in the Cold War. The film explores the Soviet Union national hockey team which was dominant in the world of sports as it was led by their coach Viktor Tikanov whose harsh tactics had been one of controversy. The result is a fascinating and exhilarating film from Gabe Polsky.

From the aftermath of World War II to the final days of the Cold War, there was no team in hockey that was as dominant and as intimidating than the Red Army team. The Soviet Union national hockey team would win numerous accolades as they played a style that was more about teamwork rather than individual play. One of the stars that was part of the Red Army from the late 1970s to the late 1980s was defenseman Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov who was the youngest captain in his early 20s in the early 1980s. Along with the late Vladimir Krutov (who was interviewed just before his passing), Igor Larionov, Sergei Makarov, and Alexei Kasatonov, they were known as the Five as they played with a style that had an air of grace and fluidity in their passing game as they were considered unstoppable as a whole.

Though the team was one of unity, not everything about being part of the Red Army was great where Festiov, Krutov, Kasatonov, and others who were around at that time revealed some of the drawbacks of being in that team. Especially when the Red Army’s first coach in Anatoli Tarasov was replaced in the early 1970s in favor of Viktor Tikhonov who had a more ruthless and controlling way of practicing that allowed players to spend 11 months in the year to train and play with very little time to see their families. Despite one of the team’s most infamous failures at the 1980 Winter Olympics at Lake Placid, New York where they lost in an upset against the U.S. The team would succeed under the Five but the success wouldn’t mean anything just as the Soviet system was collapsing in the mid-1980s where Mikhail Gorbachev would try to create reforms but things within the government would prevent the players from trying to go to the National Hockey League in the U.S. and Canada.

Through Gabe Polsky’s direction where he would interview the individuals that would include a former KGB agent who revealed some of the things that went on and his own job which he admit wasn’t easy. It plays into not just what the players had to endure but also reveal exactly what was happening when they were given opportunities to go to the NHL in the late 80s where they would be able to play but would have to give most of their money to the government. Another obstacle that these players faced were prejudice as there were players, coaches, and fans that didn’t want the Soviets to play in the NHL because of what they stood for where Fetisov and Krutov talked about that. Especially as Fetisov revealed how bad he was considering that many of the NHL players played more like individuals than a team where it was until the mid-90s when former Montreal Canadiens coach Scotty Bowman became the new head coach of the Detroit Red Wings where he got the Five to play for him and would win the Stanley Cup in 1997.

With the aid of cinematographers Peter Zeitlinger and Svetlana Sveko, editors Eli B. Despres and Kurt Engfehr, and sound editor E.J. Holowicki, Polsky would shoot in many locations in Russia as well as collect many archival footage of the Soviet team in its hey-day as well as in its decline when the Soviet Union was collapsing. Even as Polsky does provide some historical context into what was happening in the country to the day of its dissolution on Christmas Day in 1991. With the aid of visual effects designers Philippe Gariepy and Benoit St.-Jean, the film would play with some of the archival footage as well as present examples of how the Soviets played which is quite astonishing. The film’s music by Christophe Beck and Leo Birenberg is a nice mixture of traditional Russian folk music with orchestral flourishes that play into the ups and downs of what the Soviets would endure as players and as individuals.

Red Army is a marvelous film from Gabe Polsky. Not only is a compelling documentary that sports fans will enjoy but also a film that manages to appeal so much more to non-sports fans as it reveals a very human story about men who loved playing hockey and play for something bigger than themselves despite the political climate of the times. In the end, Red Army is an excellent film from Gabe Polsky.

© thevoid99 2015

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