Red Army
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In today’s National Hockey League, Russian names are every bit as familiar as North American names—with players like Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, and (my personal favorite) Sergei Bobrovsky frequently starring in hockey highlight reels. But it wasn’t long ago that Russian hockey players competed to play on just one prestigious team: the Soviet Union’s Red Army hockey team. And in Red Army, director Gabe Polsky talks with one of the team’s great players about the team’s history, legacy, and politics.

This colorful hockey doc explores life inside the Red Army, as told through the eyes of the team’s former captain, Slava Fetisov, who opens the film by explaining the importance of the hockey club. For Soviet children, hockey was a way to find happiness in the midst of their difficult, post-war lives. For Stalin, the Red Army was a symbol of Soviet superiority. And when a young Fetisov was invited to join the club, it was the highest honor that he could imagine.

Still, playing for such a triumphant team was anything but glamorous. Instead, it meant grueling practices, months away from home, and working with a ruthless coach. And when Fetisov’s move to the NHL was repeatedly delayed, he found himself fighting the government for the right to continue playing the game that he loved.

Sports, politics, and propaganda collide in this fascinating look behind the Iron Curtain. For viewers who aren’t hockey fans, the film offers an insider’s perspective on life in the Soviet Union during the Cold War—from the financial struggles to experiences with the KGB. And you don’t need to understand the rules of the game to appreciate Fetisov’s story of hard work, determination, and the pursuit of happiness.

Of course, if you are a hockey fan, you’ll have a deeper understanding and a greater appreciation for the film and its story. And, as an added bonus, it features plenty of archive footage of the legendary Russian Five in action—smooth, graceful plays that will take any hockey fan’s breath away.

Meanwhile, in choosing a subject for the film, Polsky definitely made a great choice. Fetisov isn’t just a talking head; he’s a bold, expressive, back-talking character who holds nothing back in telling his story. As he relives the memories—the wins, the losses, the challenges, and the triumphs—his facial expressions convey every emotion. And he turns an informative hockey documentary into an entertaining and sometimes even moving experience.

On the surface, Red Army is a documentary about Russian hockey—and, as such, it’ll have the greatest appeal for hockey fans. But, at its heart, it’s an interesting perspective on life (and sports) in the former Soviet Union.

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