VOD film review: Red Army
Thrills on the pitch8
Politics off the pitch8
James R | On 11, Oct 2015
Director: Gabe Polsky
Cast: Viacheslav Fetisov, Scotty Bowman, Mark Deakins
Watch Red Army online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema / Apple TV (iTunes) / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
Anyone who’s ever watched an international football game will be well aware of the importance sports can have on a global scale: a victory can be a symbolic triumph; a defeat, a shaming disgrace. The 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia were as interesting to spectators because of the politics behind it as the tournament itself.
Rewind 30 years and the same is even truer of ice hockey and the Soviet Union. The documentary Red Army details the rise and fall of team captain Slava Fetisov, who is our effect narrator of events. A hero of the nation, he recalls the “greatest moment” of his life, as the team wins the World Championships in the 1970s and 1980s. “My childhood dream come true,” he laughs.
But that dream was overshadowed by another: the dream of Soviet superiority. As ice hockey grew, players in the nation began to defect to US teams to play in the NHL, something that left them labelled as traitors by their former country. It wasn’t about the numbers of goals scored for the opposition; it was the suggestion that America could be seen as better than Russia.
Director Gabe Polsky captures this chilling side to the Cold War with carefully choreographed precision. “It was kind of, how do say… illegal,” explains Mogilny, the first Soviet player to switch allegiances to play for Buffalo. His contributions reveal how old friendships became frosty, while Slava explains the extortionate attitude of Russian officials, who demanded a portion of his wages to be given to the motherland.
The candid comments are cut efficiently with the competitions over the years, the added political perspective giving the already exciting footage an added edge. But Polsky’s achievement is subtler than that, capturing the sincerity of the players’ smiles as much as their scorn; they still remain attached to their home, no matter how far they’ve skated from it. In fact, they’ve even gone on to become ambassadors or important figures in Russia’s sporting infrastructure, still proponents of their motherland’s values. Slava, who retired to become a coach, talks about the importance of team members being like members of a family. You can take the sport out of the politics, but sometimes you can’t take the politics out of the sport.