Red Army (2014)

Documentary, Biography, History
Scotty Bowman, Mark Deakins, Viacheslav Fetisov, Anatoli Karpov
The story of the Soviet Union's famed Red Army hockey team through the eyes of its players.
Fun and fascinating, Red Army delivers absorbing documentary drama for hockey fans and sports novices alike.
  • Sony Pictures Classics Company:
  • PG Rated:
  • IMDB link IMDB:
  • 29 Jan 2015 Released:
  • 09 Jun 2015 DVD Release:
  • $0.7M Box office:

All subtitles:

A lot more than just a "documentary about sport"10/10
I was aware of the hype surrounding Red Army since Cannes this year. However, the fact that I knew so little about hockey cast doubt on whether it's worth to see or not. Stellar ratings and reviews on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes eventually convinced me to see it at AFI Fest last week...and I was totally blown away by it. For starters, hockey is still the main theme here. However, it's not the only dominant element. Gabe Polsky utilized hockey to explore many facets of life such as family, friendship, politics, and patriotism. Furthermore, he found the perfect, complex main character in Slava Fetisov to build the narrative around. Depicted as a poster boy for the Red Army, Fetisov emotionally exposed individual and collective struggles of being a member of the USSR athletic system whilst uncovering the direct link to a larger force at work behind it that is Soviet government. There's no flat moment and it kept me entertained from start to finish. The fact that it has garnered serious Oscar buzz before widely released shows that Red Army is a must-see documentary, whether you're a hockey fan or not.
Bleeding Red8/10
Greetings again from the darkness. You need not be a hockey fan to be familiar with the "Miracle on Ice" upset of the seasoned Russians by the upstart Americans at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. Often referred to as a battle of cultures – "our way vs their way, capitalism vs communism" – most articles, TV shows, and movies have been presented from the American perspective. It's only now, in this informative and entertaining documentary from filmmaker Gabe Polsky, that we gain some insight into the Russian players and their way of life.

Mr. Polsky is the son of Russian immigrants, and grew up playing hockey in Chicago and later for Yale. His research into Russian hockey evolved into a documentary that blends sports, geopolitics, history, culture, and personal stories. He mixes in some fantastic archival film footage from the 1970's and 80's, but the heart of everything here flows from the interviews with Russian hockey legend Vyacheslav Fetisov, who is a vital and unique link to past and present.

Fetisov is sometimes playful and sometimes snide in his remarks, but he basically narrates the history of Russian hockey – starting with Stalin's founding of the organization, through the two key coaches: father figure Tarasov and the militant Tikhanov who followed. Stalin was convinced that Russian domination of global sports would clearly establish communism and the Russian culture as far superior to capitalism and the carefree ways of the west. This led to the Red Army hockey camps being run by the military. The players were isolated for eleven months each year, training and playing in a manner that generated ultimate teamwork, but also quite unhappy young men.

We see the influence of Russian chess (Karpov) and the Bolshoi ballet for training methods, and we also see the ever-present KGB ensuring no "escapes", or what we might know better as defections. We learn about the Russian Five (including Fetisov) who were so dominant that the team went two years without losing. Gold medals in Sarajevo (1984) and Calgary (1988) occurred just prior to the 1991 dissolution of the U.S.S.R. and the economic crisis of the region.

This is what opened the door for Russian hockey players to enter the NHL, though the transition was smoother for some than others. After a few years of adjusting, it was coach Scotty Bowman's 1997 Detroit Red Wings that won the Stanley Cup with a contingency of Russian players (including Fetisov) who were given free reign to play their own game while on the ice. Their movements and intricate teamwork clashed mightily with the individualistic style of westerners … and that group of Russian players can be credited with helping the game to evolve to its current style.

Much of the insight comes from the faces of the men who are interviewed. Their stoicism and lack of emotion is a microcosm of the society in which they were raised. Their country was obliterated by war, and then led by a megalomaniac who wanted to rule the world. Human emotion and the rights of individuals mattered little, and we see that despite the years of hardship, these players remain (mostly) true and loyal to their country. This is a fascinating look at human nature and how the culture of one's youth can directly impact the beliefs as an adult, so many years later.
Unexpected & Exciting10/10
I saw Gabe Polsky's new documentary at AFI Fest recently and was blown away by its robust sensibility. Not knowing precisely what to expect beyond the hockey element, I feared that my general lack of interest in sports would prevent me from enjoying the film. "Red Army," it turns out, uses hockey as a mere vessel for a story about pride, friendships, politics, and passionate devotion to the art of a sport. Polsky's movie is his love letter to hockey and the titular Soviet team, who the film reveals were probably some of the best technical athletes of any age. Superlatives like "best" and "greatest" came with a heavy price; these guys were not just hockey savants, but devices in a political narrative about the USSR's ability to dominate the world in the waning decades of the Cold War. "Red Army" shows how the team was often intimidated by government leaders into doing what they were told and when. One of the more defiant players was team captain Slava Fetisov, the documentary's somewhat audacious and resolute central figure. The Fetisov of today, seemingly unworried about PR, does and says what he wants on camera, berating the director over what he feels is a poorly conceived question and scoffing at others. At one point Fetisov even gives Polsky the finger when the director's interviewing interrupts him checking his email. It's a hilarious, authentic moment that will make you love and remember the film. Without a doubt one of my favorite movies of 2014.
A Must See! Red Army - A Way of Life9/10
Red Army illustrates the way of life hockey creates for its players, fans, and country on and off the ice. Polsky intimately describes the pride, devotion, and hardships these players experienced once shoved onto the patriotic pedestal meant to represent strength, determination and nationalism Russia insisted its people adopt. To be a part of the Red Army hockey team was a national honor, it proved your undying love and support for your country, it meant absolute popularity and respect from your fans (which was the entire Russian population), because to Russia, it wasn't just a game, it was a way of life, it was a fight that could move Russia to the top once again. The film primarily follows Slava Fetisov, highlighting his triumphs and relationship with the Red Army team and Russian government, his impossibly tough transition in the NHL, and the affect his hockey talents and patriotism had on his personal life. It's absolutely mesmerizing to watch the dance of the game, the political movements and the life decisions these players and their families are forced to make. It's a life full of tests and courage - Polsky shares an absolutely phenomenally detailed truth.
Perspective Shaper - Hard Men Real Relationships And Team Bond9/10
I came away from this movie deep in thought, trying to piece together the personal journeys of the cast, the context of life in the USSR, the changes and resulting impact upon the players lives.

This documentary is well researched and highly viewable, it is not just a male only film.

Women get to see stripped to the bare bone, deep male team bonding, open responses to complex relationships and real meaning as to how 5 men dominated a sport in the USSR and the Americas.

The death of one of the cast members shortly after the movie added a melancholy touches, yet there is humour from both Gabe Polsky and Vyacheslav Fetisov.

It was clever, I see this documentary staying around for some time, certainly one to watch again.