Documentarian Gabe Polsky illuminates the world of Soviet hockey in his film Red Army that predominantly features defenseman Vyacheslav Fetisov, the captain of the CCCP team during the 1980s.
The film is not so much about the Soviet hockey team as much as it is about how that team came to represent the nation, its rise, its beliefs, and its eventual splintering. Highly detailed are the events of the Miracle on Ice in 1980, the 1984 and ’88 Olympics and the mass exodus of Soviet players to the NHL in the late 1980s and early ’90s.
As a history piece, the viewer gets a strong overview of Glasnost and Perestroika and what life was like for Soviet families during the upheaval. As a sports documentary, the viewer gets to see how the Soviet hockey culture was orchestrated, from Anatoli Tarasov’s innovative training techniques and revolutionary style to competitions against Western teams to the Soviets intense preparations (unable to live at home and training at heart rates of 220) to the dictatorial regime of coach Viktor Tikhonov.
Being mostly Fetisov’s story, the viewer comes to see the man as quirky, dedicated and stubborn. He is highly entertaining, especially his interactions with Polsky himself. Without his wit and humor, the film would not be nearly as enjoyable.
What is missing from the film however, is more a broad sense of the issues from different sources. Other than Fetisov, the interviews are based around Scotty Bowman, Alexei Kasatonov, Vladimir Krutov, Vladislav Tretiak and Vladimir Pozner among others, but contrasting points of view, say from other members of the KGB or Tikhonov (who declined to be interviewed), would have helped to provide a more well-rounded film. As it is, the viewer latches onto Fetisov and his interpretation of history, which may or not be entirely accurate (his personality certainly lends itself to exaggeration at the least). The result is also a fairly straightforward narrative without deep reflection.
Red Army is a funny, intriguing and informative documentary that may not break ground in terms of style or worldview, but manages to entertain the viewer and remind them of a time when the Cold War spread to every corner of society, including sports, and how that competition created the greatest hockey dynasty of all-time.