When Mystery, Alaska's amateur hockey team accepts a challenge to play against the New York Rangers, the entire population must put their petty differences aside and pull together as their small town becomes the center of a nationally televised event. Written by
It's cold in the small hamlet of Mystery, Alaska, but there's plenty of warmth in `Mystery, Alaska,' the film, directed by Jay Roach, about the town and the sport that is ingrained in the collective consciousness of the community. Hockey is the game, and when a former resident, now a journalist, writes a story about Mystery's home-town team and their `Saturday Game,' and it ends up as a three page spread complete with pictures in Sports Illustrated, it has far reaching effects on the populace of this small dot on the map. Soon the town is turned upside down, embroiled in an event, the proportions of which, to them, are huge. Needless to say, it involves hockey and an encounter with a high-profile professional team. Yes, there is a lot of hockey in this movie, but be advised, this film is not `about' hockey; this is a movie about people real people and what makes them tick. Roach has crafted a thoroughly entertaining and emotional story of want and need, dignity and desire, obsession and love, and he's captured it all through the winning performances of a stellar ensemble cast, the most prominent of which is Russell Crowe. The charismatic Crowe, finally on his way to superstardom thanks to his turn in `Gladiator' plays John Biebe, Mystery's sheriff and captain of the hockey team. His rugged good looks and persona fit the character perfectly, and he puts all of his myriad personal resources to work to put it across, and that he does. Also notable is the personable Mary McCormack as John's wife, Donna, who does a great job of fleshing out the character of this woman who made what she deems to be the right choices in her life, without regrets or apologies to herself or anyone else. It's a refreshing portrayal, and the chemistry between her and Crowe is unmistakable. Also adding to the overall texture of this film are Hank Azaria, as Charles Danner, the journalist who gets the whole thing rolling; Burt Reynolds, as Judge Walter Burns, a man forced to deal with his own personal issues, which include a son, Birdie (Scott Grimes), a member of the hockey team; Colm Meany, as Scott Pitcher, Mayor of Mystery, and Lolita Davidovich as his wife, Mary Jane; Maury Chaykin, as Bailey Pruitt, the man who seems to personify the very essence of Mystery's spirit; and Ron Eldard as `Skank,' another member of the team who's good for two thingssuffice to say that hockey is one of them. Mercifully, `Mystery, Alaska' never pursues the beat-the-dead-horse cliched mentality that sports `teaches one to be a team player and builds character.' Instead, Roach has given us a worthwhile, memorable movie with a human touch, and because of that, in the end these are people you care about, as individuals as well as a community. The climactic game is exciting and far from predictable, beginning with the celebrity they bring in to sing the National Anthem. This may not be one of Russell Crowe's biggest or highest profile movies, but this is one he's going to be able to look back upon with pride, because it's right up there with his best. Remember, you don't have to be a sports fan to enjoy this movie; all that's required is that you have a membership in the club know as Mankind. I rate this one 9/10.
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