It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
"Miracle" is a sports movie that's more about the coach than about the team, and that's a miracle, too. At a time when movies are shamelessly aimed at the young male demographic, here's a film with a whole team of hockey players in their teens and early 20s, and the screenplay hardly bothers to tell one from another. Instead, the focus is on Herb Brooks (Kurt Russell), a veteran hockey coach from Minnesota who is assigned the thankless task of assembling a team to represent America in the 1980 Winter Olympics. The United States hasn't won since 1960, and the professionals on the Soviet team -- not to mention the Swedes, the Finns and the Canadians -- rule the sport.
This is a Kurt Russell you might not recognize. He's beefed up into a jowly, steady middle-age man who still wears his square high-school haircut. Patricia Clarkson, who plays Brooks' wife, has the thankless role of playing yet another movie spouse whose only function in life is to complain that his job is taking too much time away from his family. This role, complete with the obligatory shots of the wife appearing in his study door as the husband burns the midnight oil, is so standard, so ritualistic, so boring, that I propose all future movies about workaholics just make them bachelors, to spare us the dead air. At the very least, she could occasionally ask her husband if he thinks he looks good in those plaid sport coats and slacks.
Herb Brooks is a real man (he died in a car accident just after the film was finished), and the movie presents him in all his complexity. It's fascinated by the quirks of his personality and style; we can see he's a good coach, but, like his players, we're not always sure if we like him. That's what's good about the film: The way it frankly focuses on what a coach does, and how, and why. Brooks knows hockey, and disappointment: He was cut from the 1960 American hockey team only a week before the first game, and so in this film, when he has to cut one more player at the last moment, we know how he feels -- and he knows how the player feels.
Brooks' strategy is to weave an air of mystery about himself. He assigns his assistant coach, Craig Patrick (Noah Emmerich), to become a friend to the players -- because Brooks deliberately does not become a friend, stays aloof, wants to be a little feared and a little resented. At one point, after chewing out his team in the locker room, he stalks out and, passing Patrick, says in a quiet aside, "That oughta wake 'em up."