Red Army – ★ ★ ★ ★ DVD Review
This was a documentary I’d been looking forward to for quite a while. I’m a big hockey fan, so the subject matter instantly appealed to me, but as I watched, Red Army grew into something that wasn’t just about hockey. The kicker was, this probably made it more entertaining. Now “entertaining” is an interesting word, because the film was not all action highlights, exciting goals and funny stories. It was serious and enthralling, and had me yearning for more information with each interview.
From director Gabe Polsky and executive producer Werner Herzog, Red Army tells of the hockey program in the former Soviet Union, by showing the lives of the players both on and off the ice. Beginning in the 1980s, the story is told about the heydays of the Soviet national hockey team from the Russian point of view. The documentary primarily focuses on Slava Fetisov, the poster child of that hockey team during that time. Fetisov has returned to Russia now after being one of the first to break into the NHL. Until 2008 he was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hand picked Minister of Sport, and a key member of the bidding committee for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.
Red Army is so much more than just a hockey documentary, it details the state of the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s, and about the conditions that these men, national sports heroes, were living in. They were celebrated stars who were treated like prisoners in the Soviet system. The tensions between the East and the West were so high during the cold war-era, that even sport was considered a form of warfare, a form that the Russians took extremely seriously. The fear of having players defect was real, and the measures that their government and the KGB took to keep the players were mind-blowing.
Director Polsky balances the present day interviews with the archival footage expertly, and you realize that this really is more of a human story than a sports story. I personally knew some of the history of the Soviet teams, and the hurdles that the players had to jump to play in the NHL, but I knew them from a Canadian perspective. And I really only knew what was reported on the news, nothing really of the “behind the scenes” politics. Even though I wasn’t even around for the 1972 Summit Series I knew of the pride and the rivalries attached to international hockey. The 1980 Olympic hockey games in Lake Placid, New York (or the “Miracle on Ice”) were an incredible shock, and an incredible piece of Cold War history.
Bottom Line: Highly recommended! Especially for the insight into Russian culture and politics.