I wasn’t so sure I would enjoy this movie. Or that it would be a good watch. The movie focuses on a famous US Olympic team. The team that took down the USSR hockey team from the pinnacle the Soviets enjoyed for two decades. Such a movie topic is rife for mythmaking.
Mythmaking or not, I did enjoy the movie. I even held my breath during the famous 1980 Olympic game against the Soviets. Even though I knew how it ended. Even though I had seen the game on TV when it actually was played.
I do not know how close to reality the movie really was. Or how true the story was to the training the team went through. Regardless, watching the methodology of the coaching was a study in psychology. How the head coach built up the members of the team. Challenged them. Incited them. Got them to reach deep inside of themselves to give everything to the team.
The coaching was a study in psychology in another way. Of the coach’s psychology, not the psychology behind the coaching. The coach himself had come close to playing on the US Olympic hockey team, but was cut a week before the games. The why wasn’t stated but was later hinted at, possibly explaining the why behind his method of coaching. He coached, paraphrasing his words in the movie, to make sure that the guys on the team knew without a doubt that they had given everything they could to this team. To being on the US Olympic team. The implication was that when he was cut twenty years earlier, he harbored the feeling that maybe he didn’t give it his all. Maybe if he had worked just a little harder. Put in a little bit more effort. Pushed himself just a little more…. And this haunted him for twenty years.
This is a feeling that any of us could have and might have experienced at certain pivotal moments in our lives. Those times when we look back at a failure, a loss, and wonder if there was anything more we could have or should have done. Coach Brooks wanted to make sure that the members of the 1980 US Olympic hockey team never felt that. Never looked back with regret or asked “what if”.
At certain points in the movie, a collage of images and voices from the time period were used to put the story of the hockey game in context. The hostages had just been taken in Iran. The US was going through the effects of an oil shortage. The Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan. Morale in the US was low. I particularly liked the voice-over of President Carter giving a talk to empower, encourage, and boost the morale of Americans—his famous “Crisis of Confidence” speech that he delivered on July 15, 1979. In some respects, the speech seems apt nearly thirty-five years later.
I got to relive the sense of excitement and pride in a team of underdogs, a team of non-professional hockey players that took on the dominant hockey teams in the world one by one. And beat them. My pride was tempered a bit at the end, in the closing credits, which listed what each of the players went on to do. One after another, they mostly became involved in the financial sector. My reaction may or may not be justified. I know I was reacting negatively due to the lost years that America has experienced after the financial crisis of 2008. A crisis we endured—and are still enduring—thanks to elements of the financial sector. The crisis of 2008 was the accumulation of years of unsound financial practices. Whether the heroes of 1980 were involved in any way is unknown to me. In my mind, they are tainted by the unscrupulous players of the financial sector in 2008. Perhaps unfairly. I want them to stay the heroes of 1980. I don’t want them to represent the downfall of the US. But the miracle that was. In 1980.