The icy tendrils of the Cold War got everywhere; with the space race it reached the moon, while with Rocky IV it became all about a single life or death boxing match. Gabe Polsky’s documentary shows how, in real life, the Cold War was being fought on ice rinks as the Soviets and the Americans competed in the lightning quick and often brutal sport of ice hockey.
You don’t need to be a fan of the sport or a Cold War historian to enjoy Polsky’s hugely entertaining documentary, though. Intertwining politics, history, the personal lives of players and rink action, Red Army tells the story of the Soviet Union's awe-inspiring national ice hockey team as team captain Slava Fetisov turns from national hero to endangered traitor. And Fetisov is an absolute treat to watch, whether on the ice or off, as he talks Polsky through his days at the top of the game.
The Red Army are a legendary team of players whose breathtaking skill was achieved through countless hours, days, weeks and years of hard work under the dictatorial control of an overbearing and ruthless coach. Constantly training for the next Olympics throughout the late ‘70s and ‘80s, Fetisov and his team become infinitely better than any other players in the world, but at a tremendous personal cost, spending 11 months at a time away from their families in training camps.
The USSR become unbeatable in the rink, but with Communism and KGB repression taking their toll on the country, the players begin to see a different way of living when they travel to the United States. Politics and economics might be transforming the USSR, but the mistreated players are desperate for a slice of American living by joining the NHL.
Using archive footage (the Red Army in action are spectacular) and fresh interviews with the players, Polsky nails the tone throughout. Fetisov is a hilarious presence, but there are moments of real heart and tragedy as these men discuss the hardships of what they went through to become the best. The Cold War mentality is picked apart, with both sides coming in for criticism. This isn’t anti-Communist propaganda, but a clear-eyed look at the benefits and drawbacks of both economic systems. Even the way these players feel about their pasts is fascinatingly complex, with some touching revelations about what they have gone on to achieve in their lives.
The interviews with Fetisov appear uncut as Polsky can be heard questioning his subject. Polsky's persistent questioning and refusal to cut captures some genuinely emotional moments as the hockey stars relate their more trying experiences.
Even if you have no interest in ice hockey, the footage of Fetisov and his team skating rings around their opponents with precision passing is stunning in its level of skill. While relaying the deeply personal stories of some hockey legends, Red Army offers a revealing peek behind the Iron Curtain. It is an absolutely fascinating documentary; incredibly heartfelt, at times hilarious, and often surprisingly poignant.
RED ARMY / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & STORY: GABE POLSKY / STARRING: SLAVA FETISOV, SCOTTY BOWMAN, ANATOLI KARPOV, ALEXEI KASATONOV / RELEASE DATE: DECEMBER 7TH