Those apathetic to sports movies need not fear: Gabe Polsky’s award-winning documentary may follow the game of ice hockey, but it’s about so much more than mere sport. Polsky documents the story of the indomitable Red Army team – the pride and joy of the Soviet Union, its stars’ lives bound inextricably to the history of the nation. At its core, Red Army demonstrates how the country’s victories on the ice were used primarily to send one message to its enemies: “Our way of life is better than yours.”
Red Army revolves around defence extraordinaire, Viacheslav Fetisov. With a professional career spanning from 1976 to 1998, he is the perfect candidate, as his life well and truly absorbs the timeline of late Soviet history. Fetisov began playing at the Red Army Club at eight years old, and grew up in the intensely patriotic, highly efficient, relentlessly totalitarian world of sport in the Soviet Union – of course, merely an extension of the political regime. The name “Red Army” is no exaggeration – the club was quite literally a faction of the army, with players donning military uniforms during public appearances.
The tensions of the Cold War play out through conflicts with the USA, with the Soviet teams mostly coming out tops. Throughout the late 80s and 90s, however, the ideology that had held the country together begins to disintegrate, mirrored in a series of defections by high-profile Soviet players to the American National Hockey League. In a tellingly insightful representation of the incompatibility of American capitalism and Soviet communism, the players begin to flounder during their early years in North America, lost in a system that is about individualistic play rather than the collectivist and regimental style favoured under the Soviet regime.
When it comes to giving a feel for life as an individual under Soviet rule, Red Army packs a hell of a punch. Between the harshness of spending 11 out of 12 months in confinement at training camps, to the unyielding onslaught of training that saw players “pissing blood”, and the hostility of KGB agents trailing players to ensure the safeguarding of their loyalties, the brutality and severity of the Soviet Union’s approach to its sporting stars is hard to comprehend. Ultimately, Red Army is a frightening insight into what it took to breed a level of excellence at which, it must be conceded, its enemies could only marvel.
Red Army is released nationwide on 9th October 2015.
Watch the trailer for Red Army here: