CBC Mini Series - Canada Russia '72

On April 9th and 10th, 2006, CBC aired the world premier of Canada Russia '72, a film by TW Peacocke, Barrie Dunn and Malcolm MacRury. It is very much a film, though cleverly shot in documentary style snap shots which allowed for the great behind-the-scenes look at Canada's iconic sporting and cultural moment. It is the off-ice stories that make this film a success.

All in all, this is a great film that far exceeded my expectations. When I first heard about this project a good year before its release I had two fears. Firstly I feared there was no way any replication could possibly capture the intensity, the drama, the patriotism that is so greatly ingrained in all of us. Secondly, I feared it would another "Miracle" on ice Hollywood type production - nice, tidy hero worshipping..

Fortunately, I was completely wrong on both counts

Unlike typical Hollywood films, these Canadian filmmakers looked to tell the true story, even though that story was full of ugly moments which cast our heroes in a bad light. Somehow this trait of Canadian film really worked here. Anything less, anything too "Hollywood", and this film would have failed miserably.

More importantly, and I'm not quite sure how, but the writers, directors and actors of this film, in Henderson-like form, managed to pull off the impossible. We all know the story. We all know the protagonists. We all know the outcome. Many lived it. The rest of us, myself included, live with it. Yet somehow this film had me greatly anticipating every coming moment. 

Part of this miracle is the magic of the series itself. The rest is due to great writing and research. The attention detail was absolutely incredible. It's almost as if the writers and researchers read my website or something.  Or better yet, they exhausted every book, every newspaper archive, every documentary, every first hand account of the players, the coaches, the media of the time, and just about anybody who had something to contribute.

For a hardcore Summit Series enthusiast like me, that's what I enjoyed most. I completely marked out at all the tiny details and the hockey scenes. 

There's the 70s era wardrobes, hair and glasses (how were they ever fashionable I'll forever be too young to understand). There was great soundtrack, full of Canadian 70s classics that contributed to yesterday's atmosphere. 

Somehow they made New Brunswick look like cold, gray Moscow. They found a ridiculous glowing globe to serve as the Luzhniki goal light, an odd car with an authentic Tackh (taxi) sign, the rink board advertising. I loved how the Russians spoke Russian with subtitles (and for that matter the French players spoke French) as opposed to the English-with-a-phony-accent routine.

Then there's the hockey scenes. God bless them. They tried so hard to recreate every play exactly as it happened, and cleverly included some actual footage. Somehow it came across like a slow motion replay, but the effort by all was greatly appreciated. One of the best aspects was the inclusion of the actual commentary of Foster Hewitt and Brian Conacher. Whoever made that decision should get an award.

I think the details that impressed me the most are the stuff that may have flown over the average person's head. There was so many references to the tiniest of quirks that made the series but I never would have guessed would have made the movie. Stuff like Dick Beddoes promising to eat his column in a bowl of borscht should Canada not win, or Harold Ballard's million dollar headline about Kharlamov, Henderson's vacation, Espo's hockey school, Bergman's jokes, Cashman's tongue or the mythical Chinese restaurant prank. I think that one floored me the most. These guys left nothing unturned.

The film really impressed me early when they were showing the alternate jerseys. Right away I knew I would be learning. Were those legitimate options at the time, or a little Hollywood recreation?

On to the actors.

Absolutely incredible job by Booth Savage as Sinden. He nails him to a tee. I know the writers (and probably Savage) relied heavily on Sinden's book and Sinden's recollections, but I felt he was a little too reserved much of the time. But that is Harry. No offense to Savage or for that matter Sinden, but Savage looks a lot like Alan Thicke, but with Norm MacDonald's voice.

Gabriel Hogan did a really good job with Dryden. He looked like him, tall and awkward, increasingly unsure of himself. I guess Hogan had the great benefit of reading Dryden's 1973 book Face-Off At The Summit where he recollected all his tape-recorded thoughts, as shown in the movie, in a finished manuscript. Every over confidence, every self doubt, every high, every low was recorded. Hogan did his homework and deserves credit.

David Bernie expertly played Phil Esposito, even though he could easily pass as Bobby Orr. Its eery how he captured the Esposito swagger. Good writing as well. However I felt he failed to come close to the passion and heartache and intensity of the famous rant after game 4. How could he capture it? How could any actor? He absolutely nailed it when going on to the ice and he says "they're god damn booing us!" But that rant is so engrained in Canadiana that we all had the real rant pictured as it was going on. Good call by the directors to cut to scenes from the dejected dressing room, crowd etc, although maybe a few seconds too late. And following the rant was excellently shot as well. But I felt for the actor (whose name I'm forgetting) who did so good all show long but never had a chance with this unforgettable scene.

In smaller roles I really appreciated the work of the actors who played Fergie (although he looked nothing like him), Bobrov and even Tarasov. David Miller did a good job as a youthful Paul Henderson The Gaby character confused me. She was completely fictional. I think the female character brings a different perspective and allowed a great opportunity for the Eagleson character to come off as a womanizer that he is. I don't know if the script really took advantage of this.

Judah Katz put in a masterful performance as Alan Eagleson. The thing that impressed me the most was the mannerisms. The constant fidgeting, buttoning and unbuttoning the blazer, the fixing of the
hair, the animation in the seats - totally the real Eagleson there. I understand the time constraints of an already too long movie, but I was disappointed the film didn't cover the summer negotiations
to set up the series better, for two reasons - I was hoping to learn more about that stage of the series, and it would have been the perfect opportunity to really establish Eagleson as a prick. As the
movie played out on night one, I felt not enough time was given to establish Eagleson as a prick that everyone now knows he is. Which got me thinking - in 1972 we didn't know he was such a bastard, but I think we all, players and fans, knew there was something about him we didn't like, but we couldn't quite put our fingers on it. I'm not sure if this was a conscious attempt, but this part was ABSOLUTELY nailed here by Katz and by the writers. 

Lastly, I understand the reasons for it, but I was disappointed in the historical inaccuracies that painted the Russians in a bad light. My website and mailing list have a strong Russian following, and I can tell you they were extremely upset at the portrayal of Russian players in "Miracle." Kharlamov shooting the puck into the stands at the players established the Canadian players, particularly Clarke, dislike for him in an unnecessary way. Of course the Russians were stereotyped as emotionless robots at the time, so I really appreciated the humanizing of the Russian by showing the celebration in the dressing room after game one. I felt the scene where the Russian players first arrive at the Forum or where they hop on foot in Moscow was robot-like, as was the use of black and white filming in the dressing room. I know this movie is about Canada's perspective and this only helps to re-establish the Soviet stereotype, but a little more humanizing of the Russian contingent would have been
a real nice touch.

Also the excessive booing at the start of the Vancouver game was a bit excessive. I'm sure there were some boos, but the boos grew as the game went on and of course were in full force at the end of the game. The booing of course was a big part of the rallying cry for Team Canada and needed to be emphasized.

And the Canadian fan who was taken by the Soviet militia and had his head shaved, heels tattooed and sadistically humiliated - I know that's what all westerners feared Soviet police would do to you, but as far as I know this never really happened to a Canadian fan. Detained perhaps, but even that I don't know of, but I've never heard about this actually happening.

There were a few other inaccuracies, but incredibly nitpicky to point out. But for the most part this crew stuck to the real story and presented it, warts and all, to great success. They took a great risk because failure was expected and potentially career ruining. But, against all odds, they come through 

Will there be a DVD release?

An inside source has told me a DVD release with extras is planned, but no release date is known. He does suggest in time for Christmas 2006 is a good possibility.

Have you talked to any of the cast?

I have, most notably Judah Katz who stars as Alan Eagleson. Here's some excerpts of our email conversations:

Have you talked to the creators?

I have, his name is Barrie Dunn of Trailer Park Boys fame. Here's some excerpts of our email conversations:

Reviews

Here are a collection of newspaper and online reviews about the movie:

* 1972 Summit Series drama inspired by success of 2004 Disney Movie 'Miracle'
* Casting call for Canada's shining moment
* Hip lead singer auditions as Ken Dryden
* Actor shoots for hockey role and scores
* CBC TV drama mini series - Canada-Russia 1972
* Baird getting a kick out of acting debut
* Reaching for the summit
* Filming underway on CBC hockey drama
* Taking a shot at '72
* Film scores with stars
* Canada/Russia series stirs up emotions
* Here's '72 series, warts and all
* CBC shoots and scores
* Summit Series revisited
* CBC Summit Series film shows Canadian hockey innocence
* CBC miniseries brings back hockey series of our lives
* Hadfield villain of Summit TV show
* Canada Russia 72 'pretty well nailed it'
* Team Spirit And More
* Replaying Hockey History
* Summit Series: Ancient History Revisited
* We should have cheered for the Russians
* Canada Russia '72 coming to CBC
* Big Moments, Tiny Details
* Gilbert tells his actor he'd better be a Hot Rod
* The Summit Series Revisited
* Enough is Enough
* Cournoyer Approves
* Rod Gilbert happy 1972 Summit Series remembered in film
* Canada's Cold War On Ice
* Hockey Drama Best Off Ice
* Putting hockey on Hollywood map