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Film review: "Red Army"

Chasing down demons


Examining the intersection of politics and sports, director Gabe Polsky tells the story of the Soviet Union's "Red Army" national hockey team during the Cold War. Winning three Olympic gold medals and eight World Championships, the legendary team dominated the sport in the late 1970's and early 90's. Narrated by the team's captain, defenseman Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov, the film chronicles the team's rise and eventual fall following its loss during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid.

Fetisov describes how the team blossomed under beloved first coach, Anatoli Tarasov, who prepared his players by training them in ballet, chess, and gymnastics, but then curdled under the regime of their tyrannical second coach, Viktor Tikhonov, whose training methodology was rather more severe. In many ways "Red Army" acts as a counterpoint to the inspirational Disney sports film, "Miracle," which followed the American team's experience in Lake Placid.

Conflicted between a love of his country and the knowledge of the ways he and the rest of his team were used for the country's campaign of propaganda, Fetisov is a fascinating, prickly interview subject — he's introduced giving the finger to Posky when the director attempts to tear his attention away from his cell phone and ask him a few questions. As he explains his trajectory from national hero to being branded a public enemy, the film becomes a fascinating, often funny exploration of patriotic idealism weighed against the natural desire to pursue one's freedoms.