30 for 30 (2009–2016)
6.7/10
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3 user 7 critic
Peter Berg's documentary on Wayne Gretzky, his decision to leave Edmonton for Los Angeles, and that decision's effects on hockey and its fans.

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Episode credited cast:
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Walter Gretzky ...
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Jim Hill ...
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Jim Matheson ...
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Bruce McNall ...
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Marty McSorley ...
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Bob Miller ...
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Gord Miller ...
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Rod Phillips ...
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Peter Pocklington ...
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Glen Sather ...
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Storyline

On August 9, 1988, the NHL was forever changed with the single stroke of a pen. The Edmonton Oilers, fresh off their fourth Stanley Cup victory in five years, signed a deal that sent Wayne Gretzky, a Canadian national treasure and the greatest hockey player ever to play the game, to the Los Angeles Kings in a multi-player, multi-million dollar deal. As bewildered Oiler fans struggled to make sense of the unthinkable, fans in Los Angeles were rushing to purchase season tickets at a rate so fast it overwhelmed the Kings box office. Overnight, a franchise largely overlooked in its 21-year existence was suddenly playing to sellout crowds and standing ovations, and a league often relegated to "little brother" status exploded from 21 teams to 30 in less than a decade. Acclaimed director Peter Berg presents the captivating story of the trade that knocked the wind out of an entire country, and placed a star-studded city right at the humble feet of a 27-year-old kid, known simply as "The Great... Written by Anonymous

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6 October 2009 (USA)  »

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the "Great One" in a not-great documentary on an inherently important subject
21 March 2016 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This will sound like a minor complaint but this is something that bugged me about this documentary... why did Peter Berg have to converse with Wayne Gretzky on a gold course? I understand the latter probably plays it and maybe Berg (not, most likely) wanted to get him in a calm environment, but it doesn't come off as something that feels right considering the subject matter: a tale of greed and loss and 15 million dollars (also draft picks) for Edmonton's "Great One" to leave in 1988 for LA. It seems off that a story that is all about how a man who felt conflicted but went for the change from working-class Oilers to the hoity-toity Hollywood-elite level of the Kings (or at least that was the fan-base seemingly at first) has the backdrop in some part of an activity that is for the upper-crust and well-off.

This isn't to say the movie wouldn't be worthwhile if they were picking through trash or something (on the far extreme of the otherwise). There's a compelling narrative here that is hampered mostly by it being too short (it was done as the first of a long, massively successful series of 1-hour documentaries about sports by a variety of directors for ESPN): what happened for Gretzky, who had been playing through the 80's for the Edmonton Oilers and, along with the likes of Mark Messier, making one of THE major hockey teams that went to win four Stanley Cups (the last in 1988 when this deal took place), to go to the Los Angeles Kings? Berg's depiction of the story is fair and balanced as far as looking at the many sides: the former owner of the Oilers (who was beset by money issues as the team, while noted for Gretzky, wasn't as successful as a major city team like the Kings or, the last team he played for, the NY Rangers), the former owner of the Kings (who had his own extremely shady business dealings, which comes out in the final text crawl at the end), and the former coach of the Oilers (to say the least he said he never got emotional, but certainly did when news came to him of a deal being made to trade Gretzky).

A lot of it came down to economics, but one of the things that sticks out is when Gretzky - faced right before with the point by the owner of the Oilers "if you don't want to do this you don't have to" (maybe passive aggressive, maybe not) - has the press conference to announce his decision. He fights back tears and finally lets go and can barely say a word. It's the hardest part to watch in the movie, though the point is brought up by an interviewee that this might have not been genuine, that Gretzky was really an ego-maniac. The various clips of Edmonton fans reacting to the move to LA is rather wild; one minute we see this city rally around this team because of this player as if it was like a gigantic communal church (tickets were said to sometimes go for as much as 5,000, though the former owner says they usually just paid between 20 and 40 dollars, odd contradiction but there you go and speaks to the money problems the team might've had), and then the next they go so far as to call Gretzky's then new wife Janet Jones the "Yoko of hockey", like she would pull him from one team to another. Wow.

The story is inherently captivating, but I wish it was better presented. Berg's editing style is to have a lot of time-lapse shots of LA and other things, and to have rapidly cut montages whether it's with the Oilers or in LA. It's never bad exactly but it's uninspired. And it really deserved, or deserves, a longer treatment: what happens really when Gretzky gets to LA and plays with them? We hear tidbits from the Great One about how the team wasn't as good and he had to pull extra of his own weight, and that they only made it to the cup finals once, but I'm sure where was more intriguing material to explore. The people who are interviewed - golf course confessionals included - make this worth a watch, especially for hockey followers, but I wish it had received a larger treatment and with less "flash" and "pizazz" that seems contradictory to the story being told about green and ego... or if it's meant to compliment that, it falls flat.


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