"Red Army": Middleburg Film Festival '14 Review

I’m not a sports fan, I’m a movie fanatic. The closest I’ve been to seeing a full game of hockey is “The Mighty Ducks” 1-3. So going in to see “Red Army” at the Middleburg Film Festival I was expecting to be bored by an archival documentary about a specific team in hockey’s past. Instead I was blown away by a fast paced, exciting film. “Red Army” is the perfect blend of sports drama, history lesson, and compelling cinematic storytelling!

The film focuses on the former Soviet Union’s Red Army hockey team. Director Gabriel Polsky brilliantly uses playful humor with the pre-baked dramatic themes of the Cold War, democracy vs. communism, and sports competition.  The star of the film is Viacheslav Fetisov, the former captain of the Soviet national team, and he delivers first-hand commentary as we weave through time up to present day. Whether talking about the Red Army’s extreme work ethic and discipline, the thrill of winning Olympic Gold, or pain of failed and lost relationships, Fetisov is the heart and spine of the film. We also hear from other star players of the team, retired KGB officers, sports journalists, and government officials which gives the film a dual feel of a behind the scenes look at the hockey team and communism simultaneously.

Polsky shows his mastery of the medium using all the tools at his fingertips in a symbiotic effort to push the story forward. Lower thirds translate from Russian to English, the titles and awards of Fetisov quickly fill up every inch of the frame around him showing just how talented he was, Russian tunes compliment the visually silly but amazing work out routines of child hockey soldiers! He dollies the camera in to cap off an interview at times throughout the film, making the interviewee and viewer on edge, but many times evoking a priceless reaction from the on camera talent.   

“Red Army” ultimately gives us a glimpse at how much can change in one lifetime. Whether it’s the change of thinking/regime from the USSR to Russia’s current state, Fetisov’s personal life from “child soldier” to holding the position of Minister of Sport in Russia for a time, or the sport of hockey itself, the film speaks to our ability as humans to learn, grow and change. Whether you're a sports fan or not, it’s a must see documentary!

Rating: A

Check out the live Q&A after the film:


Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.