- Tough on ice: Red Army players celebrate another win.
One benefit of the dissolution of the Soviet Union has been the revelation of all the history previously hidden behind the Iron Curtain. Now unfolding in Gabe Polsky's documentary Red Army is a recounting of Russia's fabled and feared national hockey team.
Polsky's film is less about the playing of the sport than it is about hockey's role in the ever-present Cold War tensions between the West and the Soviets, and what playing hockey meant for these young men who were groomed to play for patriotic glory, not money or personal fame. (The players were technically soldiers, and conscription included living in a training camp 11 months of the year.) The system offered good (the on-ice teamwork) and bad (having a former KGB official for a coach). And as history would have it, when the U.S.S.R. began to fall apart, these same men found themselves pawns in the chaotic political times that followed.
Much of the story is told through contemporary interviews with former team captain Slava Fetisov, who makes a prickly if intriguing study of a man who has negotiated both communism and capitalism, the collective and the individual.
The film is a must for hockey fans, especially those old enough to have railed against these men (one of the Red Army's rare defeats was the 1980 Olympic "Miracle on Ice"). But it's also a fascinating Cold War document with much general appeal.