Cannes 2014: Gabe Polsky's 'Red Army' Hockey Doc is Outstanding
by Alex Billington
May 16, 2014
From behind the Iron Curtain comes an inside look at Soviet Russia's Red Army hockey team in a new documentary titled Red Army, which just premiered at Cannes 2014. Directed by Gabe Polsky (The Motel Life), this outstanding doc focuses one of the greatest hockey players to ever live, Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov, who was trained by the national Red Army team since age 10, playing for the USSR throughout the 70s, 80s and 90s, as well as in the NHL before eventually taking the job as Minister of Sport in Russia. It's a fascinating and surprisingly moving doc about passionate hockey players just playing the sport they love.
While I am a hockey fan and have always loved the sport, I wasn't sure what to expect with Red Army, but this left me floored. I loved this documentary. Everything about it, from the score, to the earnestness and oddball antics of Slava (who is hilarious), to all the remarkable footage they culled from behind the Iron Curtain, even the score by Oscar winner Mychael Danna, all came together to deliver a doc that will leave a lasting impression on sports fans. It's inspirational in a very passion-driven way, and thankfully never gets lost in the politics or fundamentals of the sport. Instead, it stays focused on the players themselves, their lives, their passions, their dedication to the sport and their country, and the great moments in their history.
What stands out in particular is the way that Polsky handles these guys, and how delicately and carefully he tells their story. It's an unbelievably rare peek behind the Iron Curtain, with so much incredible footage from the days of the USSR. It touches upon the politics in relation to hockey, and why the sport became such a powerful identity for the nation. At the same time, it's about the players, and Slava's life specifically, how much he played his heart out for years because he believed in his country and his sport, only to be treated poorly by coaches. When the NHL finally enticed Russian players to join, the government wanted Slava to give them 90% of his income from the NHL. He refused, and became an even greater symbol in the process.
This isn't a documentary about the sport of hockey, but rather the people who play the sport of hockey. It's about what drives them, how much they love the sport, and how much dedication they have for playing at their best even in the midst of oppression and depression. It's an engaging, entertaining, fascinating look at a turbulent time in history, and an inside look at the internal workings of the USSR. They even interviewed a former KGB agent, who tells interesting stories, as well as other Red Army players, coaches and friends. Red Army is up there with the likes of Miracle, even though it's the same story from the other side. Seek this out.
Alex's Cannes Rating: 9 out of 10