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Red Army - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Red Army
Directing: B
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

You certainly don't need to be interested in sports, or specifically in hockey, to find Red Army interesting, but I suspect it helps. I'm pretty indifferent to pretty much all sports, and it kept me engaged. That should be taken as a compliment. It also helps that, at a mere 76 minutes, this is a well-edited film that never outstays its welcome.

The film itself never makes this clear, but it's good to note that its writer and director, Gabe Polsky, was a former hockey star himself at Yale and came from Russian immigrant parents who fled the Soviet Union. In an unusual move, Polsky inserts much of himself into the film, his questions heard from behind the camera, trying with vigorous interest to get at the heart of the stories of the five most skilled and famous players on the Red Army hockey team.

These stories are filled with drama, with the socio-political changes of the Soviet Union in the eighties and early nineties as the backdrop. For anyone not particularly interested in sports, this is what makes the movie interesting, the way these players' stories parallel that of their homeland.

Eventually, many of these incredible hockey players, long the best in the world, are sold to National Hockey League teams in the U.S., where their welcome is anything but warm. These people coming from what was long America's enemy at the end of the Cold War are treated with derision and mistrust, but this is but a small part of the story. The movie, in fact, is closer to the end than the beginning once it gets to this part.

There are details about these guys' lives as part of the Red Army team that are both expected and surprising. They are given more freedom than you might think in some ways, but are also treated horribly -- after an embarrassing loss against a U.S. team, for example, their coach trains them at a special facility for eleven months of the year, letting them out once a month. In one case a player's father was fatally sick, and he was not allowed to go see him before he died.

But there's a peculiar freedom, creativity, camaraderie and pride that develops on the ice when these guys play. Polsky has a pointed interest in demonstrating how these guys played as a team with organized skill, which strangely clashed with the comparative brutality and primitive violence among North American players. These five guys, many of them granting interviews now, remain nostalgic -- not for their later days playing for the NHL, but for the days when they played as representatives of their country. And now, the country they knew as young men no longer exists. You can feel their pervasive sense of confusion and cultural aimlessness.

The man who became the team captain, Slava Fetisov, is a particularly entertaining personality in the present-day interviews -- so much so that Polsky includes segments that would not normally be considered officially part of the interview. In the opening shot, we see him half-ignoring Polsky as he consults his smart phone, at one point even flipping him off.

If nothing else, Red Army presents a side of recent history heretofore unfairly represented to American viewers. When it comes to societies of nations long considered our enemy, this can only be a good thing.

The RED ARMY isn't exactly what you think.

Overall: B
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