The story of how the Soviet Union built the most famous national hockey team in history gets a funny, compelling and irreverent portrayal in this documentary, helped by the no-nonsense attitude of some of its Russian interview subjects, especially Slava Fetisov, the old team captain. Even if you have no interest in hockey, you’re likely to get intrigued by the story of how young players were forced to give up their youth to serve the state, symbolized by coach Viktor Tikhonov, a man whose brutal methods they despised. We also learn how some of them resisted the dictatorship’s impossible demands. As in another Cold War-themed documentary, Bobby Fischer Against the World (2011), it’s hard to resist this entertaining piece of nostalgia about a time when superpowers battled each other in sports arenas.
2014-U.S.-Russia. 84 min. Color. Produced, written and directed by Gabe Polsky.
Trivia: Co-executive produced by Werner Herzog.
Last word: “[Fetisov] realized that I was trying to do something unusual and very interesting and profound. He kinda opened up on that idea. He said that he’s never spoken to anybody for so long. He was finally allowed to be himself. He wasn’t a politician. He was just genuinely telling the story. He needed to tell the story and I really wanted to tell the story. I didn’t know he was even going to be in the movie, or a character or anything. When I interviewed him, he didn’t want to be interviewed… and then he agreed to meet with me for fifteen minutes. That turned into an interview that lasted five hours.” (Polsky, Mile High Hockey)