Playing Cannes, TIFF and, now, the New York Film Festival this weekend, the celebrated Russian hockey documentary “Red Army” has received rave reviews since it debuted on the Croissette earlier this year. Directed by producer/filmmaker Gabe Polsky (one half of the sibling duo that directed the underrated indie “The Motel Life” with Emile Hirsch and Dakota Fanning), “Red Army” is about the Soviet Union and the most successful dynasty in sports history: the Red Army hockey team.
East vs. West narratives played out fiercely during the Cold War, and even spilled over into the world of international sports, where the Russians were severely competitive and extremely proficient in hockey. Polsky’s doc looks at the Red Army hockey team, how it was created and how it also became a tool of Soviet propaganda. It sounds like a fascinating documentary, and buzz around the movie has been glowing. Here’s the extensive official synopsis which gives you some great context for the era, the political climate and the ideology of the time:
It was the Cold War…Soviet Socialism vs Western Capitalism. To the West, the feared Soviets were villains in almost every aspect of daily life: politics, films, and even sports. As Red Army tanks and troops were crushing freedoms in countries throughout Eastern Europe, Soviet leaders were using sports and their stars to demonstrate Soviet ideological superiority while winning the hearts and minds of the Russian people. The Red Army invasion through sports!
As the foremost propaganda tool in this era of charged East/West relations…..Soviet Hockey, and its stars. Through their ‘collective’ style of play, the mighty Red Army team proved that socialism worked, as they dominated the individualistic playing of the West. Back at home; the team’s success on the ice distracted the Russian people from the decaying underbelly of the Soviet system.RED ARMY is a film about the Soviet hockey team, and its players, as they take on archrivals Canada and the USA, as well as a dehumanizing system.
At the center of the story of the legendary Red Army Club is Slava Fetisov, one of the world’s greatest players, who experienced the highs and lows of Soviet hockey; who stood up to that powerful system, went from national hero to political enemy,and paved the way for change for generations of Russian players. As Soviet totalitarianism succumbed to capitalism, failed and broke apart, so the lure of NHL money helped unravel the hockey team and give their players a new home in the U.S.
You don’t need to be a hockey fan to get swept up in this story about friendship and divided loyalties. Director Gabe Polsky makes dazzling use of archival material from both east and west. He draws poignant interviews from key figures of the era including Fetisov, his teammates and National Hockey League coach Scotty Bowman. At their best, the Soviet team was known for a graceful style of play that emphasized cooperation and teamwork. When those players entered the NHL they had to grapple with a more pugilistic style along with American prejudice.
Executive Produced by Jerry Weintraub and Werner Herzog, “Red Army” opens on November 14th in limited release. Watch the trailer below.