(2004)3Perry SeibertDirector Gavin O' Connor made a brilliant decision to cast hockey players rather than actors to portray the members of the 1980 USA Olympic team in Miracle. Although the film will not teach the viewer a thing about hockey itself, the action all looks like the real thing. That verisimilitude complements Kurt Russell's fine performance as coach Herb Brooks. Russell does a superb job of playing a man who is consciously manipulating his players in order to get the best out of them. His performance lets the audience know how difficult it is for him to occasionally confront the more painful aspects of his job, but also shows how that inner struggle is never revealed to his players. Brooks did not want a collection of stars when he put his team together, he wanted a unit that would work well together. This is exactly how the unknown (and often first-time) actors who represent the team come across. Nobody is asked to do anything too difficult from an acting standpoint, allowing Russell to control every scene with his dominating personality. The film has faults -- Patricia Clarkson is fine but underdeveloped as Brooks' wife, and the final voice-over is overly earnest in a way the film had almost entirely avoided up to that point. However, Miracle does offer downright inspired game footage. The camera weaves in and out of the action in ways that will surprise an audience only familiar with televised hockey. The period aspects of the story are handled with taste and restraint -- an achievement considering how easily the film could have pandered to a viewer's patriotism. Miracle succeeds at being Hoosiers on ice, an honorable achievement for any sports film.