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Red Army is a feature documentary about the Soviet Union and the most successful dynasty in sports history: the Red Army hockey team. Told from the perspective of its captain Slava Fetisov, the story portrays his transformation from national hero to political enemy. From the USSR to Russia, the film examines how sport mirrors social and cultural movements and parallels the rise and fall of the Red Army team with the Soviet Union.Written by
Wait a second. Go Back. I don't get why Yazov let you leave the country, if he was mad at you.
I'm not a historian. My feeling was the country tried to change something, because it's Perestroika time, but he doesn't want changes. Everybody was afraid. It's understandable. It's like in a dark room, trying to find a dark cat. It's not funny.
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Director Gabe Polsky uses his debut documentary Red Army to explore perhaps one of the most intriguing stories of hockey that has ostensibly swept under the rug in the modern day. Polsky tells the story of the Soviet Union's hockey team during the Cold War. He uses the captain of the Soviet's hockey team known as HC CSKA Moscow Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov to paint the picture of an unstoppable hockey team that practiced ruthlessly and was kept under less than adequate conditions by their dictator of a coach.
Right of the bat, Fetisov is a cantankerous presence, thoroughly unpleasant to the audience and Polsky, going as far as to flip off Polsky whilst he plays on his phone in the middle of an interview. However, Fetisov finally gets the intriguing story out of him that we came for. He tells of a time when the Soviet Union selected hockey as the country's sport and how numerous young children would stand in line for hours on end to try out for the Soviet teams. The USSR was about unity and people saw hockey as a way to unite everyone through the spirit of a team and the desire to win at all costs.
The HC CSKA Moscow, better known by their name of the "Red Army," was a meticulously coached and organized team. Archival footage showing practices and actual games show a team hellbent on executing strategy, with slick, blink-and-you-miss-it puck passing amongst players, even in the tightest situations. One of Polsky's angles in the film is how there is a contrast between American hockey and Soviet hockey and that contrast is evident just by looking at a few clips of the Red Army in action. Where the Red Army was concerned with maintaining puck possession in the toughest situations, American hockey finds itself often preoccupied with checking and fighting.
The Red Army was coached by Viktor Tikhonov, the aforementioned ruthless coach. No player featured in Red Army has a particularly kind word to spare for Tikhonov, all of whom reflecting on some of his most frighteningly strict and demeaning moments. One player recalls how he wouldn't let a teammate visit his dying father back home, and another reflects on how players urinated blood because Tikhonov worked them so hard. Tikhonov believed in a dictatorship when it came to coaching hockey; he was also worried about players defecting or abandoning allegiance to the USSR in favor of playing for the NHL. If Tikhonov thought one of his players was planning to jump ship, no matter how skilled they were, he would cut them and blacklist them from hockey, all but guaranteeing they'd never get an opportunity to play in the NHL.
Those who did get the fortunate opportunity to play in the NHL, thanks to their unbelievable talent and skill, like Fetisov, a nineteen-year-old rookie named Alexandr Mogilny, and the talented center Sergei Fedorov, found themselves under an unrealistic amount of scrutiny for their decision. Fetisov, in particular, had to jump through a series of hoops in order to land the spot on the roster of the New Jersey Devils. Devils' manager Lou Lamoriello had granted an immense signing bonus to Fetisov but the Soviet Union refused to give up one of their most dynamic players. The Soviets saw players jumping ship for the NHL as a victory for the west and a grand loss for the USSR.
Red Army does a fine job at exposing the blurred line of sports and politics, showing how during the Cold War era, the two worked in conjunction with one another quite brazenly. Polsky works to keep this documentary on topic, although in only eighty-four minutes, and admittedly a great deal of ground to cover and characters to profile, it's difficult for Polsky to hit all his targets with complete development. It almost feels like this runtime was set before the documentary even began filming and he was prohibited from going over by even a minute. Still, this is a hearty documentary that houses a great deal of personality in its depictions of contrasting views and politics of the same sport and how politics itself got involved in a sport and resulted in a messy ordeal for many involved.
Directed by: Gabe Polsky.
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