Red Army (Blu-ray Review)

Where comedy and drama are more universal categories, the documentary can be somewhat polarizing depending on the subject matter. In 1980, the USA Olympic Hockey team defeated the Soviet Red Army team for a shot at the gold medal game. This was not simply a grand moment in sports. It was democracy defeating communism. It was David, in the form of a team of college kids, defeating Goliath (professional-aged players with years of chemistry together). The documentary Red Army chronicles this event, but does so from the unique and previously unheard perspective of the Russian players. However, the content is not merely limited to the Olympic upset. Read on to discover the full attributes of this very immersive film.

Slava ii


In Red Army, Director Gabe Polsky provides the public with a documentary that focuses heavily on the following areas: growing up in post-WWII impoverished Russia, the birth of hockey in the USSR, the famed Red Army team at its height of success, interviews with the players from that team, the 1980 Winter Olympics, and lastly, a look at Viacheslav “Slava” Fetisov’s journey from communist-era soldier to NHL Hall of Famer.

The film opens with a serious-expressioned President Ronald Reagan telling viewers that the fight against communism is up to them.  I grew up in the 80’s and remember quite well the strife and struggles of the Cold War that the media had shown daily on the evening news.  Nuclear threats were very real.  All-out war seemed not that far off the horizon.  Communism was pure evil looking to dominate the world.  Then again, maybe those things were a little further from the truth than what I saw through my eyes as a child.  After all, since when did we Americans get the Russian perspective, unhindered by the media?

Polsky does an immaculate job at threading the needle and telling that story.  It is through his research and the words of those who lived the Red Army hockey life that we finally get to experience what it was like for them.  You will get to know names like Anatoly Tarasov, the father of Russian hockey, Viktor Tikhonov, the volatile KGB chief and Red Army head coach, Vladislav Tretiak, the famous Red Army netminder, and defenseman Slava Fetisov. Though for those who followed hockey at some point in the last 20 years, would already know Fetisov to be a household name in North America as a member of the Detroit Red Wings.

Over the course of the near 85-minute film, viewers can expect to see how Soviet hockey players dominated the West through their grueling training and finesse style of play.  If Canada was a rhinoceros on the ice, the Russians were a tiger, capable of not only brute force, but great agility as well.  Viewers will also get more than a glance at the Soviet team’s experience during and after the 1980 Winter Olympics. Finally, there are also the harsh realities of being a citizen in a communist nation that has a stranglehold on its people.  How Fetisov even came to the NHL is a spectacular story in and of itself. Makarov skating


Delivered in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio with a 1080p resolution, Red Army definitely has its merits in the visuals category.  The modern day interviews are crisp and portray an accurate color palette.  Even treks on location with Slava Fetisov come across quite clear, though muted only through mother nature’s winter doldrums.  There is a fair amount of historic footage on this disc from the communist era, black & white and color, so expect a lot of grainy scenes, though nothing that’s a deal-breaker of any sort.  It’s all part of the game’s past in another part of the world.


Though the Red Army Blu-ray disc utilizes a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless soundtrack, there really isn’t much to write home about here.  A lot of that can be attributed to the fact that this is a documentary, not The Dark Knight.  Documentaries are obviously very dialogue-heavy.  Red Army is no exception, and with most dialogue, it is projected through the front channels of a surround sound system.  Because of that, the rear speakers are usually left high and dry, but this really comes as no surprise for a film of its type.

 Red Army propaganda


There are some very good featurettes that accompany Red Army on this Blu-ray.  The highlight of which, at least in my opinion, was the deleted scene option.  In my experience, deleted scenes are often in that self-titled area for a reason; they lack a seamless placement in the film (or the director/editor is trying to get the film within a certain run-time).  For Red Army, however, these would have definitely contributed to the film’s overall delivery.  Nevertheless, while dismissed from the film, they are not dismissed from our viewing.  So without further ado, I give you the Red Army extras:

  • Commentary with Gabe Polsky and Werner Herzog
  • Interview with Hockey Legend Scotty Bowman (16:16)
  • Q & A with Director Gabe Polsky and Former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul – Unfortunately, this is audio only. (52:06)
  • Toronto International Film Festival Q & A with Director Gabe Polsky (14:23)
  • Deleted Scenes (11:32)
  • Theatrical Trailer (2:05)
  • Previews (1:58)

Slava interview


As a serious hockey fan, I was enthralled with this film.  With that being said, I want to point out right away that one does not need to be a puck aficionado to truly appreciate this film.  As Mary Corliss from Time Magazine said of the movie, it is “Unbelievable-but-true. A human story that transcends decades, borders and ideologies.”  Red Army is a film that can entertain and educate any number of audiences, not simply those who are hockey fans, or more generally, sports fans.  The content to be found here goes far beyond the extent of the rink and the roar of the crowd.  In short, Polsky has brought us a remarkable story, straight from those who lived it.





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