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Unexpected & Exciting
khquigley19 November 2014
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.
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Perspective Shaper - Hard Men Real Relationships And Team Bond
ZRHZurich5 October 2014
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.
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Among the greatest sports dynasties ever
Davor_Blazevic_195931 December 2018
Red Army (2014) documentary, directed by Gabriel Polsky, retells the story of probably the greatest dynasty in the history of sports, the Soviet Union national ice hockey team of the 1980's, and its best five-man unit featuring Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov on defense, Vladimir Krutov, Igor Larionov, and Sergei Makarov (aka the KLM Line) at forwards, all in their 20s, aided with the legendary goalie, Vladislav Tretiak, in his 30s. The five dominated national and international hockey for nearly a decade.

Having foundation of their game laid by Russian hockey coaching pioneer Anatoli Tarasov, based on creativity, organized team movements to create and win the space, as well as individual puck control, with its timely transition into an empty space on the next zone of the rink, ultimately to a player in prosperous scoring position, Soviet players, additionally subjected to military discipline added by Tarasov's successor, head coach Vladimir Tikhonov, who took over the Soviet national team in 1977., skated three times a day, eleven months of the year, "perfecting both their individual skills and their teamwork". Knowing that "copy is never as good as the original", creative "father of Russian hockey", Tarasov, sought inspiration from other team sports, even from theatrical arts, primarily ballet, to create a unique style, "a completely new way of playing hockey, which changed the sport".

I was lucky to watch alive two games of this incredible hockey team in 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo, the first one early in the competition and the last one in the finals. In the opening round, against Cubans, USSR won comfortably, and in addition to enjoying the game and individual virtuosity of USSR players, managing to combine two seemingly incompatible traits, improvisation with harmonious and fluent team play, comparable maybe only to similar traits of the best jazz orchestras, by having being coincidentally seated right in front of him, I was also listening to the professional comments of Ivica Osim, one of the greatest footballers to grace the soccer fields of Sarajevo, who has had thus far spent most of his active career whether playing for or coaching my favourite local team "Zeljeznicar", and was soon to coach national team of Yugoslavia. It was pure delight to listen to professional comments this great football enthusiast and expert had about the style and strategy of the Soviet national hockey team, and about the skills of its players, as well as comparison between the two sports, level of individual skills and tactics applicable in both. I can clearly remember Osim's comments and his longing for soccer outfield players of comparable individual skills, conditioned for so called total football, based extensively on player's capability not to cover only for his nominal position in the field, but, as it becomes required, to take over the role of any other player in a team.

Strength of this team composed of players with incomparable skills was shown in the final game. Although the end result was not impressive, 2:0, nearly routine execution left no doubt who's dominant, and another participant, Check Republic, practically had never had a chance to win.

Documentary, cleverly composed from interviews with three players of thus far surely the best five skater hockey unit ever to hit the ice, and from mixture of archive footage from their games, trainings and other life events, by showing how great and undefeatable they have been, really does them a great justice. Therefore, in the rest of this review I'll rather just add the words of the "Red Army" director, copied from a featurette "Gabe Polsky Hockey Commentary" found on a DVD:

(Red Army-Director Gabe Polsky discusses the essence of Soviet hockey-2014)

"I'm Gabe Polsky and I directed the movie Red Army. The Film is about the Soviet Union and the greatest sports dynasty in history. The Soviet Union national hockey team revolutionized sport, they took hockey and sport to a whole new creative level. When I was a young kid and I watched for the first time (the) Soviet Union play in a 1987 Canada Cup VHS tape it was a religious experience, it was incredible what they did on the ice creatively. This was the best hockey ever played in history. In the series you saw the greatest players from the Soviet Union face off against the greatest Canadian players. (Starting Lineups: USSR (Fetisov, Makarov, Larionov, Krutov, Kasatonov) vs Canada (Grossman, Gartner, Gretzky, Messier, Bourque).) The Soviet style play here is like a finely tuned symphony: the passing, weaving, improvisation. (situation description) Krutov hits the puck out of the air to his team mate Makarov who has a breakaway: improvisation and awareness. (situation description) Here we see how they knew each other so well they could almost play blindfolded together. The passing is like an artistic tapestry. They transitioned fast and confused defenders with their movement. (situation description) Here we see incredible skill and creativity, and a sense of one other. This kind of hockey was incredibly fun to watch. (situation description) Here we see how quickly they punish you for mistakes. (situation description) This is one of my favourite players showing the skill level of the Soviet players... (situation description) The Soviet game and style is all about puck possession and passing we see here. (situation description) Here's Sergei Makarov, one of the greatest magicians in hockey history, passes to Krutov and then has an accurate shot. (situation description) Here tremendous skill, being able to shoot from any position. (situation description) And this here (Demiensky breakthrough and score), my friend, is pure art... the essence of hockey."

Learning the essence and enjoying the art of ice hockey, indeed, while delightfully watching masters of the ice rink in their stellar moments.
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Fantastic insight into the Russian Hockey
ankhharu21 March 2015
You'll note that the only bad reviews so far are Canadian hockey fans upset that those too young to remember Russian Hockey dominance, will learn that Canada was never the defacto all Hockey rulers of the world as they like to claim. Fact is, Russia was the best in the world for quite some time. This is just a tough pill for Canadian hockey fans to swallow.

My only complaint is the interviewer did come off as amateurish and disrespectful. Outside of that, I thought the film was very introspective with lots of old footage of the former USSR. Excellent interviews. And to the guy complaining about no Tikhonov interview, it clearly stated at the end of the film that Tikhonov declined an interview request.

This is an excellent documentary. If you can put your patriotic homerism aside and respect it for what it is, you will enjoy it.
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Bleeding Red
ferguson-625 February 2015
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.
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A lot more than just a "documentary about sport"
byaljoe20 November 2014
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.
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A Must See! Red Army - A Way of Life
micaelaannesilberstein19 November 2014
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.
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just a great story, for hockey fans or not (and produced by Herzog!)
Quinoa198425 March 2015
I don't know if this documentary is the "Hockey Movie For People Who Don't Like Hockey". Actually, it isn't - rather, if you love hockey, especially the history and progression of it (and particularly if you remember these players from the likes of the Red Wings or the Devils), you'll have a fondness for it. But it's the core and characters in this story that makes Gabe Polsky's first documentary so successful, past the moments of gruffness from the interviewees - actually, it's mostly the main subject, the leader of the Red Army Hockey Team in the heyday of the early 1980s, Vyacheslav Fetisov. Inspirational sports movies can be enjoyed by most people, sports fan or not, but this also brings on the politics and world affairs into the mix. How could it not, considering it largely takes place before the Cold War ends? And leave it to the hockey masters here to wonder what a "Cold War" even really meant, if anything at all.

Of course by the end of the film we see why Fetisov and a couple of the other interviewees would say that - they currently hold ranks in the Russian government under the sports division (yes, there is such a group, but then this IS a country that has a nationalized hockey team in its military). Nonetheless, this is a story that involves us with these players who know almost nothing of hockey - rather, that's what's drilled in to them by a couple of coaches, one a sort of wise, awesome sage, and then another who is a ruthless and cruel taskmaster - and the games that made them legends. The lack of hyperbole with these interviewees, especially Fetisov, makes things grounded in a reality that sports docs usually on TV lack. Lots of great clips from the games, many from the Olympics of the 80's (including those classics where the Russians made their names against the US and Canada), highlight the film and draw the audience in to the action.

Again, you don't necessarily have to love hockey to get into the film. On the other hand, Red Army's ace up its sleeve is that it may actually get you interested once it's over. It feature such unusual, frenetic action on display - the Red Army front, those five players, each with their own nicknames and personalities and deep friendships formed as 'Comrades' with sticks - that you can't help but get into it. It's like watching a form of dance much as it's a sport or game. And, I must say once more, the political dimensions heighten the weight and consequences that the players took on in the history: keep in mind that just as early as 1989, it was unthinkable Russians could be in the NHL. Now, they're as common to see as Canadians or any of the other major countries that usually bring in players.

So buckle in for 80 minutes of a riveting story, often with a lot of unexpected, wild humor. Example: an elder ex-KGB agent is interviewed and gives his take on having to cover the Red Army players when first playing in Canada, and other instances of the secret politicos in the hockey arena. Watch as suddenly his grand-child comes in to the interview and humanity is revealed past the gruff exterior. It's priceless.
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Holiday on Ice
olastensson1324 April 2015
There has never been such beauty in sport than ice hockey performed by the Soviet Union at its best. How was it possible? It's pretty obvious that it all was due to propaganda reasons. The Communist human was superior, according to Soviet leaders. Or at least they wanted to think so; but the almost only way to prove it was through the athletes.

The legendary Fetisov tells most of the story here. How the players were kept almost as slaves under the regime of KGB man Tichonov. And when finally the Soviet system broke down, Fetisov and his comrades were allowed to play in NHL. But had to give most of their money to the embassy.

A sometimes breathtaking documentary and the system succeeded in creating some of the best athletes ever. And yes, they impressed the West. But the price was high.
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Personality in puck passing
StevePulaski9 July 2015
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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Compelling documentary.
Sergeant_Tibbs14 September 2015
Sometimes sports can seem like they have a bloated sense of self-importance but it can resonate in the grand scheme of geopolitics. The Cold War was indeed an era of tension and it manifested itself most publicly when the Soviet Union brought its teams to North America. It wasn't just teams representing countries, but they were representing ways of life - America, the capitalist way of life, and the Soviet Union, the communist way of life. And ostensibly, those lifestyles determine who has the better players, at least that's what they wanted the teams to think. When you hear that a country has beaten Canada at hockey, you know that means business. However, the documentary Red Army shows how the Soviet Union team members, who are all world class athletes, become disenchanted with their leadership and are recruited over to American leagues.

As expected, the attitude of the Russians today in the interviews are amusing and intimidating. Director Gabe Polsky feeds off the candid moments he captures, even if that results in the participants condescending him. With very deliberate motions with the camera, he capitalises on moments that other directors would have considered an outtake. There's a sense of humour and a sense of danger constantly bubbling, and Polsky's collection of archive footage always perfectly illustrates the portrait that the anecdotes form. It shows a skill in hockey that I've never seen before and Polsky makes it quite poetic at times. However sometimes its drama is too boisterous, but it's only real crux is that with such a big team it's hard for it to stay focused and follow all its characters at once. While it's most likely drenched in bias coming from an American, but pushing politics aside, it's the individual lives that matter.

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Puck Yeah! This movie indeed reach its goal! It was very informative.
ironhorse_iv28 September 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Made to capitalize on the fact that Russia got to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014, this documentary directed by Gabe Polsky looks and acts like a propaganda film by its trailers. It sounds like it was going to tell the story of the Soviet Union's dominance of ice hockey during the Cold War, however, after watching it, it's really doesn't explore much of that. It's more about the social and cultural parallels between the collection styles of the Soviet Union vs the Individual. It told from the perspective of its captain, Viacheslav "Slava" Fetisov, who witness it, during the early and late 1980s. Don't get me wrong, it's cool to see a story about a man fighting against the system, but I thought it was going focus more on CDKA (Centralnyy Dom Krasnoy Armii) AKA Soviet Union's Red Army hockey club and its members, throughout its 46 years history. The film barely talk about the past members of the hockey team like Vyacheslav Starshinov, Boris Mikhailov, Vitaly Davydov, and Viktor Yakushev during the pre-1980s era, nor does the movie explore or explain the different between the Soviet Union national ice hockey team and that of the CDKA. The film makes it seem like, all of the championships was completed all by the same team, when technically; it wasn't. It's like if a movie was made about the New York Rangers, and made them, seem like they won, all the Olympic golds for Team USA when in truth, they're two different teams. It's a bit misleading. The film also fails to talk about the discussion of steroid use, a drug that the Soviet Union was very open in using in sports in that time, nor the fact that there were scandals, where other Russian hockey's clubs intentionally lose to the Red Army in order to make the CDKA look strong. Also, the depiction of today's Russian stars perceived lack of patriotism for their country was a bit misleading. Internationally, Alexander Ovechkin has represented Russia in multiple tournaments. Also, the movie is a bit misleading when it comes to Fetisov and his relationship with the NHL. The film makes it seem like Fetisov didn't have an interest in joining the NHL, until the late 1980s, in reality, Fetisov had been interested in joining, even before the 1980s Winter Olympics. In fact, he was drafted by the Montreal Canadians in the 1978 NHL Entry Draft eleven years prior to Soviet's newfound glasnost policy, but couldn't committed to it, due to trouble with travel papers. Also, Fetisov's trouble transformation from Soviet Union's style of hockey to NHL's style was also somewhat fictional. He debuted with the Devils in 1989–90 and recorded eight goals and 42 points, both NHL career-highs for Fetisov. In fact, most of the years, he spent with the Devils, they got to the playoffs. Plus, the film fails to mention that Fetisov was their assistant coach for some time. The film also fails to mention, the June 13, 1997 limo crash that Fetisov, along with teammate Vladimir Konstantinov and team masseur Sergei Mnatsakanov got injury from. It would had help the human story that the film is trying to tell with Fetisov's backstory about friendship and the death of his brother. I like that side of the story about brotherhood, and I think you would like it, too, even if you're not a sport fan. There is a wonderful shot of teammate, Alexei Kasatonov getting interview about his betrayal of Fetisov, and you can't help, feeling bad for him. In my moment, most of the talking-heads interviews were beautifully lightened, place, and shot, even if some of them were awkwardly put in, like the ex-KGB member, Felix Nechepore, being interrupted by a little girl about his sunglasses. It adds to the charm of the film. Even Fetisov is introduced to us as a douche bag, but softly shown as a very complex, but busy, old morals good person. It really took me completely by surprise. The film is also very good at its editing. The archive sport event/ training footage mix with the interviews, match so well. The music and effects for it, was amazing. The pacing, not so well. For a movie about the Red Army, it really stop talking about it, 2/3 in. Yet, it was also very surprising that they would talk about the 1980's 'Miracle of Ice' moment so early, in the movie. 20 minutes in. I thought, that would had been the climax, but whatever. In the end, 'Red Army' is a must-see documentary, whether you're a hockey fan or not. Overall: I highly recommended seeing this film.
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"Red Army" tells of the USSR's international hockey program & raises the bar for other documentaries of its kind.
CleveMan664 April 2015
"Do you believe in miracles?! YES!!" That was sportscaster Al Michaels' immortal exaltation at the end of the 1980 Olympic hockey game which became known as "The Miracle on Ice". An American team of amateur and college hockey players had defeated the vaunted team from the Soviet Union, which had won the gold medal in the last four Winter Olympics and six of the last seven. The U.S. team would go on to win the gold medal by defeating Finland. The highly improbable American victory over the Russians was named by Sports Illustrated as the greatest sports moment of the 20th century and spawned a TV movie, a documentary film and the 2004 feature "Miracle" starring Kurt Russell. But what of the Soviet team? How did this shocking loss affect them? And was this the beginning of the end for Russian dominance of international ice hockey? The documentary "Red Army" (PG, 1:25) answers those questions and many more as it delves into the stories of the men behind the hockey masks and the dramatic history of their national sport.

The story of the Soviet Red Army hockey program is one of athletic, social, political and military influences that reflected the larger phenomenon of the Cold War and dictated the fates of those involved. This film contains the kind of interviews that you'd expect from such a documentary and also uses little-seen archival footage, creative modern graphics and skilled editing to tell this story in a very engaging way. The main interviewee is Soviet team captain Viacheslav Fetisov who describes his story as it felt back then and apparently still feels today. Interviews with his wife, his former teammates, a former KGB agent and a few journalists tell of their experiences and give valuable color commentary, but just as revealing is what is NOT said in the documentary. Co-producer, director, writer and interviewer Gabe Polsky is smart enough to turn the camera on early, keep it rolling and edit into the film the honesty and emotion that shows itself in the candid moments and unguarded reactions of his interviewees.

The film's scope covers over four decades of the Soviet Union's hockey program, but focuses mainly on the 1980s, a decade which began with Cold War tensions heightened by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and ended with the rapid decline of the USSR as a unified state. During this period, Fetisov and his teammates absorbed that crushing Olympic defeat, dealt with the changes that followed, rose to new challenges and, eventually, began to consider careers in the NHL, as the Soviet government gradually loosened its strong grip on its players, just as it began losing control of its people and its empire. Polsky uses all the tools at his disposal to illustrate how the Russians ran their program and what that program meant to the country. We see children from all over their massive and diverse nation training, playing and competing within the program. We observe "the best of the best of the best", as one interviewee describes them, transition from hockey players to Russian icons, and cogs in the Soviet Union's propaganda machine. We learn that these elite players were to place hockey above literally everything else in their lives. We come to understand that their purpose was to embody the superiority of their communist system. We get to peek behind the Iron Curtain and contemplate an untold story unlike any other in sports.

"Red Army" doesn't just reveal the untold story of the Soviet Union's ice hockey program, but helps us see that the men involved were more than their government's propaganda puppets, but were human beings with desires for their lives, both common and uncommon problems, and impressive amounts of talent and work ethic. This is a documentary that feels like a drama. The film brings openness to a notoriously closed system and tells a story that most audience members have never thought about, but will be unable to avoid thinking about after seeing this movie. The only weak spot I noticed was the soundbites of the director's amateurish interviewing techniques. That aside, this is a fascinating film which raises the bar for future documentaries of its kind. "A-"
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Much more than just exciting hockey.
jdesando5 March 2015
"Ninety percent of hockey is mental and the other half is physical." Wayne Gretsky

In Gabe Polosky's expert documentary, Red Army, the understanding of modern Russian hockey history filters through the influence of legendary coach Anatoly Tarasov. He taught young and old about how to play hockey like chess layered over with the best of communist collectivist philosophy—a blueprint for world-class teamwork dominance from 1954-91.

The star of this doc is Vyacheslav Fetisov ("Slava"), whose play, along with four other Russian teammates, dominated world hockey for years. His face full of character in middle age, his understanding of human nature, and his devotion to the best of what Russia could offer make for no-bathroom-break-allowed drama. His defection that results in losing his best friend, Kasatonov, is the stuff of real-life drama. Yes, there are arresting shots of hockey that seem more like perfect video games than the real-live action they are, but it's the humanity that make this film outstanding.

Slava is central-casting smart and handsome carrying an abiding love of the motherland conflicting with a heightened sense of things going wrong after the Cold-War halcyon days. To hear him extol the spirit of collective achievement is to put in relief our emphasis on individuality, for its strengths and weaknesses. Polosky does not belabor the good and bad of the competing systems but rather presents the victories and defeats as a matter of history and politics: "Draw your own conclusions," he might say.

That classic documentary "lack of bias" sometimes is frustrating. For instance, I would like to know how much of either ideology—American vs. Russian—plays in the "miracle" of the USA win at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. Did the invulnerable Russian five suffer from their dislike of new coach Tikhonov's dictatorial ways (e.g., he wouldn't let a player leave to see his dying father!)? I need to go back, I guess, to another great doc, Miracle (2004), to see Kurt Russell play the legendary Herb Brooks and his victorious USA Olympic team. I suspect the reason for the Russian failure will be less apparent than the American victory.

I am nitpicking here because overall the film is exemplary historical reporting without forcing inferences about facile conjunction. Even if you're not a hockey fan, you'll delight learning about truly great players who came to America, eventually living the dream but not without a rocky adjustment as they learned to love individualism in a new country that didn't accept them as graciously as I would have expected.

See Red Army and be uncomfortably embarrassed. They were good guys.
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The Slava Fetisov Show.
elgatony26 November 2016
Fetisov is a prickly guy. The opening scene where he blows off the interviewer to use his cell phone established this. However, he's a hockey legend so the interviewer puts up with it and often fumbles his questions. This is the mistake of "Red Army," a decent biography of Slava Fetisov, rather than that of the Russian hockey team. There are lots of great game footage as well as old footage of the founder of the Red Army team, Tarasov, which the film covers for about 10 minutes but other than Tretiak, some player I never heard of, a journalist, Fetisov's wife and a KGB agent, there aren't that many people other than Fetisov who have a voice in the movie and even less who were players we know. Two other star players are interviewed: Vladimir Krutov, who comes off as more prickly and private than Fetisov and Alex Kasatonov who also evades direct questions. Former coach Viktor Tikhonov refused particaption. This leaves Fetisov to carry the film and unfortunately, the interviewer is so out of his depth and star struck that he allows Fetisov to become the star at the expense of others. For instance, an article is full frame about his quitting the Red Army team. Yet also mentioned in the article as someone who quit with him is Igor Larionov. Where's HIS side of the story? The movie follows Fetisov into the NHL but NO mention is made of how Red Army coped with the sudden losses of it's stars. No mention is made at all of the first Soviet to be allowed to play, Sergei Priakhin. No mention is made of Tretiak's successors. Just how do you replace the best goalie in the world? VF mentions there was a purge of staff & players after the 1980 loss. WHO?? As for Tikhonov, nothing is mentioned that he actually had lots of playing and coaching experience before taking over Red Army yet the movie leaves it that he was hired simply because he was a protégé of a KGB bigwig. As for Kasatonov, the movie implies that their rift came simply because Kasatonov didn't appear with other players in a TV interview supporting Fetisov. It was more complicated than that but basically Fetisov felt AK was Tikhonov's spy, a resentment that carried over when the NJ Devils signed both and they stunk because there was no chemistry anymore. A competent documentarian would've found time to mention these things and balance the film but, again, this is the Slava Fetisov Show. So much so that no mention is made of how he was the one who hired the limo that led the career ending limo wreck that ended Vladimir Konstantinov's career. OK, it's not his fault but that's TWO car accidents he walked away from and it ended a teammates' career. I'd say that's pretty important. Nor is anywhere mentioned the alleged steroid use the USSR team has been notoriously accused of. Of course he'd deny it but it'd be nice to have him on the record as saying so. If you want a REAL history of that team, keep waiting. This movie is a flawed puff piece although if you're a Fetisov fan, this is the movie for you.
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Insightful and revealing
paulpolak23 March 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Excellent biopic of of the Soviet Union's Red Army, as seen through the eyes and memories of great defenseman Slava Fetisov.

Some of the previous negative reviews I think missed the point -- this was a film about Fetisov and the other players forming the "5-man" unit, a concept that is very Russian and is pretty much unheard of today in NHL hockey (possible exception of power play units notwithstanding). References to 1972 Summit Series would be out of place -- Fetisov was 22 for the 1980 Miracle on Ice, and it would be remiss to not mention the dominance that team would go on to have. Beating Canada in the Canada Cup final in 1981 (8-1!) was a testament to how good that team was. I should mention that Canada team included Wayne Gretzky, Mike Bossy, Guy LaFleur, Gilbert Perreault... a veritable "who's who" of NHL stars at the time, and all Hall of Famers now.

Very revealing in what is said about Tarasov, his innovative coaching techniques, his sheer love of the game was obvious. Most shocking moment for me was to compare the affection Fetisov had/has for Tarasov, and the dislike (probably hatred is a better word) for Tikhonov. Watch his eyes narrow and expression change when Gabe first mentions Tikhonov.

Fascinating to see the inner torment Fetisov had -- he is clearly a patriot who loved his country. Yet he was a virtual slave to a system that allowed him to play the sport he loved. His affection for his teammates is matched by his dislike of his coach, despite all the success he had with the team. He left the Soviet Union and joined the NHL, presumably because he wanted something for himself, but was branded here a "communist" and treated with no-little amount of contempt by opponents and even new teammates. I remember the press of the day and it was not positive (in general) to the newly arrived Russian players to the NHL, although foreign players (Swedes, Finns, Czechs, Slovaks) were already playing in the NHL for some time.

Seeing film of Russian kids playing hockey made me think that could have been taken from almost anywhere in Canada. It was a nice moment.

Part of me yearns for those days when "our" game and "their" game really were different. Now the game is more homogenized -- Canadian players at the NHL level are praised for their skill level (Crosby), while foreign players have often taken a more physical approach to their game and are successful (Ovechkin, Malkin).

I grew up watching and playing the game, so it would seem to me to require some amount of "hockey-sense" to get the most out of this film. And yet, reading some of the former reviews by those who claim to know little/nothing about hockey indicates that maybe that criticism is unfounded.

It's just a great documentary, very tight pacing and enjoyable. See it.
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Insightful Documentary
larrys317 June 2015
Warning: Spoilers
To be honest, I thought the focus of this documentary was going to be a behind-the-scenes look at how the Soviet National Hockey Team reacted to the "Miracle On Ice" 1980 Olympics loss to an amateur U.S.A. squad, at Lake Placid. However, I was surprised that the movie really glossed over that event, and instead centered on an inside narrative of the Soviet team itself over a span of several decades.

The great Soviet defenseman Slava Fetisov is really the focal point of the documentary, as he recalls his early enlistment as a child for the team, the incredibly rigorous training once he was selected, and eventually becoming part of the famed "Russian Five", perhaps the greatest quintet of players to grace the ice at the same time. That's just the beginning of the story though, as Fastinov recalls after "Perestroika", believing he would be able to join the National Hockey League, in North America, but how promises by his coach Victor Tikhinov, whom he disliked intensely, were never kept.

After a defection to the West by one of the "Russian Five", and a threatened boycott by other players, Fetisov and other Russian players were finally able to leave and join the NHL. I thought it was quite interesting that even once in the NHL, the players were denigrated by fans, coaches, and even other players. Finally they found a home and great success with legendary coach Scotty Bowman and the Detroit Red Wings.

This documentary was written and directed by Gabe Polsky, who seemed to struggle with his interview style, at times drawing ire from the interviewees, even at one point getting the "middle finger salute" from Fetisov. However, I got the feeling some of this was meant to be seen by the viewers and that the relationship between the two was warmer than depicted.

All in all, despite the rough spots, I found the film insightful and interesting, and I felt I learned quite a lot from it.
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Sport is war minus the shooting...
johnnyboyz26 September 2018
When we first meet Viacheslav Fetisov in the opening scene of "Red Army", he rather surprisingly gives his interviewer the middle finger. He's not going to be hurried - he's already seen everything; been everywhere and done it all to be rushed by some kid from California (or was it Chicago?) making a documentary about ice hockey. If he has to sort out some personal business by way of a phone call before he gets into the nitty-gritty of his life story, then he will.

This is all before he has even uttered a word of genuine substance. By the time he has stopped speaking, and the film has ended with his life as it was in aftermath of the 2014 Winter Olympics, we have surely been moved by a quite stupendous narrative depicting one man's journey through the very heart of the Russian ice hockey system at a time when it was looked upon by the Communist ideologues in the 1970's and 80's as a bulwark for internationalist reputation.

There is not, of course, any correlation between sporting success and kind; prosperous societies which are worth living in, but it is, as George Orwell once attempted to convey in a work which unfolded in a mock-USSR setting, the case that something certainly becomes true when enough people believe it - irrespective of whether that thing is true in reality.

Despite their terrifying nature, societies (and films about these societies) along the lines of the Soviet Union are, for whatever reason, often morbidly fascinating - more so once we know they have disbanded and can gawp on in awe at what life was like within them: don't tell me you've never found a documentary about Nazi Germany absorbing, or even more recently a programme about a television crew who were escorted around North Korea by government supervisors. "Red Army" is, in one sense, a piece along these lines, but it is predominantly more interested in the historical story of the development of Russian ice hockey to such an extent it became all but invincible, and the aftershock of the programme which it had on other ice hockey playing nations.

Going on what I read from those who lived there, the Soviet Union was not a good place to be: people were poor, but power brought you the privilege of a nice apartment and good healthcare; government officials were corrupt and could be bribed quite easily. The skylines were desolate and grey, scarred by buildings beyond repair. It was a society of lies and corruption, not one of peace; love; progress and equality. Its saddest story is the tale of young Pavlik Morozov, who grassed to the Stalinist authorities the fact his parents were hoarding grain. His parents were killed, and a statue went up in a town square of the boy who was seen as an example to all. The odd nature of the country and how its rulers secretly knew it was a bad place to be is nicely captured via a short story therein the documentary, which recalls how KGB agents would confiscate the passports of hockey players in order to prevent defections once they had arrived at their foreign destination. Why would anyone want to defect from the Soviet paradise?

The country's ice hockey, however, eventually became second to none and "Red Army" is the retrospective documentation of the process which had this come to be; a quite brilliant voyage through the Soviet system told from the perspective of many of the players involved in the team in conjunction with one or two supporting acts who played witness to the whole thing. Agonisingly, we are robbed of input from Viktor Tikhonov, the coach of the Soviet team whose team waltzed to so many gold medals and whose nerves must have been shredded every match as the weight of both his nation's ideology and standing bear down on him. Agonisingly, he died shortly after the release of the documentary anyway.

The documentary is expertly put together by, of all people, an American by the name of Gabe Polsky, who depicts how no one had played ice hockey before what the USSR brought to the game in the 1970's. It depicts them using the somewhat obscure combination of the rhythm of ballet and the tactical nous of chess to create a team which blasts their way into greatness, winning the vast majority of their finals and seemingly spoiling the lofty opinions certain western powerhouses had of themselves in the process. Do not let the tough nature of the sale put you off - this combination of the Soviet Union and ice hockey wrapped up into a documentary package works really well.
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Such a great Story!
JohnnyKerrigan13 February 2015
I watched "The Red Army" a documentary about the Russian hockey players that dominated the world in the 1980's during the Cold War, and the human story that emerged took me completely by surprise. The film features the Russian hockey players that played on the so- called "KLM" line, which consisted of defencemen Viacheslav Fetisov and Alexei Kasatonov, and forwards Sergei Makarov, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Krutov, the best five man unit that ever played the game. I feared these guys and the Soviet Union hockey team during the 1980's, my entire country did; Canadian hockey announcers pointed out the lack of emotion in their faces when they came to visit, suggesting that they weren't human. Every young child I knew growing up was afraid of the Russians and their way of life, anti Russian sentiment flowed through pop culture, it was a Cold War, a term that baffles the Russians interviewed in the film. This documentary reminded me of how ignorant we all were, the Iron Current prevented the western world from seeing people in the Soviet Union as human beings. The propaganda in my country prevented me from recognizing the creativity and talent these hockey players possessed.

Viacheslav Fetisov was the leader of the group, he treated Alexei Kasatonov like a little brother all his young life. As I watched the images of early Russian hockey I must admit there was a part of me that envied the young boys that got sent to these hockey camps. Their coach Anatoli Tarasov mentored his players, and in the old film they showed he really seemed to enjoy himself. Tarasov was unorthodox, he saw hockey as a ballet, he had his players juggle during training, and they were rolling around on the ice like gymnasts. I never knew the early history of the "KLM" line but before they were Olympians they were children, and that's what this film depicts so brilliantly. The director and writer Gabe Polsky seems very close to Viacheslav Fetisov while he interviews him, and that really helped authenticate what I was hearing.

The coach that took over the Russian hockey program from Tarasov was completely different from the gentle father that wanted to inspire. Viktor Tikhonov was a military man first, and according to Fetisov he cared nothing about his players as human beings. He wouldn't let his players see their families, even when a family member fell terminally ill. The relationship between Fetisov and Tikhonov is what pushed Fetisov out of the Red Army, the Russian government agreed to let him go after his many years of service but Tikhonov took back that offer, stopping the government from letting Fetisov join the NHL. The other players on the "KLM" line were eventually told they could join the NHL, but they would have to give up half their salary to mother Russia. Fetisov held strong, he would not go to the NHL without getting permission to sign his own contract, in his mind he was finished serving the Russian government.

The film demonstrates how the politics at the time reflected the lives of these young hockey players and as I watched them go through this, I found myself cheering for them for the first time. A handful of young Russian hockey players were sent out to make money for their cash starved government, a couple of them signed with my beloved Vancouver Canucks. I still here the local stories about Vladimir Krutov, while he was in Vancouver he found the North American life style very hard to adjust to. When he arrived in Canada, he couldn't get over the fact he could get a hamburger from McDonald's anytime he wanted to, he could buy soft drinks and hot dogs from the corner store any hour of the day. He ballooned in his first year, growing bigger and bigger, his new freedom leading him to over indulgence. He didn't last long in the NHL; during his interview in this movie he was very stoic, he had lost his life in hockey without his country, he seemed so distant when he spoke.

The Russian culture has always fascinated me, I've regarded our two national hockey teams as the best for many years. Hockey has changed however and Russia has changed right along with it, hockey has become more about skill and less about physical intimidation. Russia is now a democracy, still in its infancy, lots of good and bad going on in that country, and dealing with political corruption is at the forefront. This film starts at the peak of the communist regime and ends in present day Russia, a democracy still haunted by its past. Viacheslav Fetisov is now working in the KHL, a league that would never exist without political change, in 2002 Vladimir Putin made him minister of Sport for Russia, he never turned his back on his country and at no point did Fetisov take the easy way out. He faced his government like the big man he is, he looked the minister of defence right in the eyes and challenged him to send him to Siberia. The courage Fetisov shows in this story impressed me the most, and I loved learning that his closest friends were five boys that loved to play hockey together.
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The Collective vs the Individual
moeunting6 June 2015
Both ideologically (vs the West), between players loyalty and vs the system exploiting them, the film explores men with core values and the trouble they have corrupting them to suit an evolving world-wide game.

The film has flaws: no discussion of steroid use, an epidemic in most sports in that time...why were they so good? Brutal training and finesse has benefits but what about the 300 lb gorilla? There is also the 1980 Olympic victory by the US Team. I don't know if the director asked the question, but given the state of Soviet hockey, how did they lose that game? Ask the question! Did they throw the game (because of Tikhonov?).

What a contrast to their peers. To these aging Soviet players we can compare Caitlyn Jenner, a triumph of the West, of individualism tailoring the body to a self-image; whereas these men dutifully serve Russia by developing hockey there.
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Jolly Hockey sticks with Khrushchev's top team
t-dooley-69-38691620 February 2016
During the Cold War the Soviet Union took sport very seriously and ice hockey was a particular favourite. This film sets out to tell the story of the most successful five men produced by the Soviet system and they were all Red Army soldiers.

It has interviews with the players as they are now including Fetisov who was one of the most driven of the men. It also uses archive footage from the era and uses the history of the time to contextualise what the men were going through. Some of the best bits were the Russians in action – they played with such grace and pose that it is a joy to watch – and I am not a sports fan in the least.

The politics on and off the ice are covered too and there are more than a few tough memories brought to the surface. It is mainly in English but there is some Russian that is mostly translated. This is just a fascinating documentary about a little piece of history that I was totally unaware of – highly recommended indeed.
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"Real men play hockey; cowards don't play hockey!"
paul-allaer6 March 2015
"Red Army" (2015 release; 78 min.) is a documentary about they heydays of the Soviet national hockey team (nicknamed the "Red Army") of the 1980s. As the documentary opens, we are introduce to Slava Fetisov, the poster child of that hockey team during that time. After some quick introductions to the tensions and rivalry between the US and the USSR in the cold war-era, we quickly get down to business and are told the story in a pretty straight-forward manner but which showcased again that at times facts are stranger than fiction. To tell you more would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.

Couple of comments: first and foremost, this is NOT a documentary about the "Miracle on Ice" 1980 Olympic game between the US and the Soviet Union (it is deal with in a matter of a few minutes in the documentary), so if you're expecting major attention to the Miracle On Ice, you are bound to be disappointed. Indeed, the beauty of this documentary is that the focus is almost entirely on the Soviet hockey players, as the documentary advances based on their own retelling of the events. Second, you may wonder whether this documentary is worth watching if at best you are a casual hockey fan, no worries. I am at best a casual hockey fan myself, but the documentary is so much more than about hockey: it's about the state of the USSR in the 70s and 80s, it's about people living within that system, it's about the prison-like conditions in which these celebrated hockey stars/national heroes lived day in, day out (they lived away from home in "hockey camps", which truly were like prisons, 11 out of 12 months of the year, just mind-blowing), etc. In short: this is a HUMAN story/documentary, not a SPORTS story/documentary. Kudos to writer-director Gabe Polsky for his laser-sharp focus on the Soviet characters, all along while displaying a nice sense of humor and tongue firmly planted in cheek. The amount of propaganda for the hockey team in the Soviet media was unparalleled. At one point, we see a group of younger/junior hockey players sing a song on Soviet TV, where they deliver the lines "Real men play hockey/Cowards don't play hockey" without any sarcasm. Just priceless. The last part of the documentary deals with the possible approval by the Soviet politburo to allow these player to go to the NHL. Fetisov's tale will have you shaking your head... Last but not least, I notice that Werner Herzog is credited as an Executive Producer of this documentary. I am a big fan of his non-fiction films, and he rarely is off the mark. As soon as I saw his name in the opening credits, I was quite certain that I'd be in for a good time. And I was.

"Red Army" opened last weekend without much pre-release fanfare or advertising at my local art-house theater here in Cincinnati, and I'm happy to report that the evening screening I saw this at a few days ago was surprisingly well attended, given that it was a weeknight. Hopefully the positive word of mouth will carry this "little documentary that could" to a wide audience. Bottom line: "Red Army" is a delightful documentary that will entertain and amaze you from start to finish. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
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solid hockey doc
SnoopyStyle26 May 2016
After the war, the Soviet Union struggled to rise from the ashes. Their hockey program became the best in the world. Coach Anatoly Tarasov created a game of crisp passing and strategy unlike anything in North America. They always won. Tarasov is fired after an incident that angered Khrushchev. The tyrannical Viktor Tikhonov became the new coach. He instituted an unrelenting regiment and is reviled by all the players. This movie follows them through the Miracle on Ice, the purge afterward, Perestroika, migration to the NHL, and finally rebuilding a new system from the latest chaos.

This is another avenue to examine the USSR and the Cold War. It's best for hockey fans although there is very little new to real hockey fans. It's missing the shock value or truly new information. I think Fetisov has more to give. He's a main interview for this doc. He seems to be holding back since he's a big government Putin official now. This is a solid doc but a deeper dig could get something truly revealing.
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An odd documentary where so many folks seems unable or unwilling to say more.
MartinHafer20 July 2020
I decided to watch the documentary "Red Army" for two reasons. First, I really enjoy hockey. Second, a few months ago I saw a very fascinating documentary about the NHL's attempt to support hockey in the ex-Soviet Union...something which was doomed to fail. "Red Penguins" was thoroughly fascinating....something I can't exactly say about "Red Army". Now I am not saying that "Red Army" is a bad just isn't quite as good as "Red Penguins". Much of it is because so many of the interviewees in "Red Army" obfuscate...either refusing to answer questions, acting disinterested in others (such as when Fetisov takes a phone call on his cell phone instead of attending to the interview) and giving answers which, in a few cases, didn't fit the questions! It must have been very frustrating for the filmmakers. Oddly, the most straight-forward interviewee appeared to be Vladimir Pozner...the guy who used to be the Soviet government's official spokesman and apologist.

The film is about the Red Army's 'amateur' hockey team from the 1960s to the fall of the Soviet Union. It specifically focuses on those members of the team, particularly Viacheslav Fetisov, in how the fall of the communist regime effected their careers and lives.

As I mentioned above, the film is interesting for what ISN'T said. But even with this difficulty, it's still a fascinating look at Soviet hockey.
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Not entirely about the whole Red Army team
bagic-tomislav25 October 2014
The movie should be titled "I am Slava Fetisov, the God of Russian and Soviet hockey". It is mostly about Fetisov, and his line, which included Makarov, Larionov, Krutov and Kasatonov. I was expecting the movie to be more about the whole Red Army team, not just a single line. Some of the greatest hockey players of all time, Valeri Kharlamov,Alexander Yakushev, Vyacheslav Bykov were not even mentioned (although there was one cut of Kharlamov in an airplane). Furthermore, it also includes much not logical stuff said by Fetisov. Also it gives a completely wrong image of Russian players playing in the NHL, in the movie, it seemed like all the players wanted to go to the NHL, but the truth is, some players could play, but refused (most notably Slava Bykov). Would not recommend
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