‘Red Army’ blends sports history with political commentary

Making a sports documentary which appeals to viewers of all sorts – not just the fans of the game – can be a challenging task, but director Gabe Polsky pulls it off in his wildly entertaining film Red Army. Polsky’s documentary takes a look at the near-unbeatable Soviet hockey team colloquially known as the ‘Red Army,’ as well as the link between sports and Cold War politics.

Red Army tells an extraordinary human tale from the perspective of the team’s captain, Slava Fetisov, one of the most revered hockey players of all time. Through his narration of the film, Fetisov offers a view of what it was like being a part of the Soviet Union’s celebrated national hockey team as he describes the severe training the team underwent. From the social and political rules in effect at the time to their abusively tough coach, Victor Tikhonov, the Red Army team struggled to achieve their personal goals in the face of oppressive forces.

The film examines Fetisov’s transformation from national hero to political liability. The success and defeat of the Red Army team is depicted as being parallel with the rise and fall of the Soviet Union, examining how hockey mirrored the social and cultural movements of the time. The film’s true strength lies in its ability to maintain a genuinely lighthearted tone while still properly addressing the harsh realities of the history.

At first glance, the film may seem to be an ordinary sports documentary, but its ability to capture such a large sweep of history, while encapsulating a heartfelt and personal quality sometimes left out of popular sports coverage. Red Army is a sports documentary that’s not just for sports fans; it’s a film which sheds new light on an old, beloved game in a way that viewers will find insightful and entertaining.

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