Movie review: "Red Army" tells amazing story of Soviet-era hockey

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Disclaimer: I’m a hockey fan, so the hockey documentary “Red Army” is automatically more intriguing to me than a non-fan. But, like many of the great sports documentaries, “Red Army” is about more than sports. And it’s also one of the greats.

“Red Army” is the story of the heyday of dominance of the Soviet hockey team, i.e. the one that was on the losing end of the “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. If you’re an American, you probably know that story. What you don’t know may be the more intriguing part.

The doc features extensive interviews with many of the Russian greats, but the central character — and I do mean character — is former defenseman Slava Fetisov. In a comical opening scene, Fetisov takes a phone call on-screen as though he can’t be bothered with the interview. But later he’s opening up to a lifelong saga that’s a pretty amazing story.

The Soviet teams of this era were among the greatest ever, and watching their form of play — an elaborate web of passing and movement that’s a beautifully orchestrated dance on ice — gave me all the hockey goosebumps. Fans of the sport, really, don’t miss this.

But just as interesting is watching how these teams were a metaphor for the Cold War-era Soviet Union, a methodically crafted and disciplined display of the USSR’s supposed dominance over the West that eventually came undone.

And seeing the Cold War from the other side is a pretty amazing bit of perspective. As the doors began to open to Russian players to join the NHL, players struggled with the lure of Western culture (and cash) against the nationalist pride that came with representing their country.

Fetisov’s story is particularly gripping, and director Gabe Polsky clearly put in the work to make this a tribute without being flowery. He works from modern interviews to amazing archive footage with the fluidity of these Russian teams on the ice.

Both hockey fans and those who appreciate a good cultural documentary shouldn’t miss “Red Army.” It’s one of the great ones.

"Red Army"

Opens Friday at the Gateway

3 1/2 stars out of 4