Producer Gabe Polsky makes his solo directorial feature debut with Red Army, an informative, tightly constructed, good looking, and fast paced documentary about the famed and often feared Russian Red Army hockey club during their heyday in the 70s and 80s.
Using only a few interviews from select hockey journalists and former NHL coach Scotty Bowman, Polsky focuses primarily on recollections from team members who played for a club where national pride was even bigger than the sport being played. Polsky deftly chronicles the rise and fall of a state run organization that could have any players they wanted from their empire, but struggled to keep up as Russia tended away from its political ideals in the lead up to the union breaking up. It also poignantly looks at how Russian players were greeted with less than open arms when they were finally allowed to make the leap to the NHL in the transition to a more “permissive” Communist climate (that still asked player to return most of their earnings to a then cash strapped superpower).
There’s a heck of a lot of style to the graphics being employed and a surprising amount of dramatic weight comes from how cinematic Polsky is able to make even the simplest of talking head interviews look. He also gets a huge assist from former Red Army star player and current Russian Minister of Sport Slava Fetisov, who’s fascinatingly candid, often cranky, and guarded about what he says at certain points about specific political issues. He’s prone to flipping out on Polsky or just ignoring him if he doesn’t feel like answering anything, but when Polsky hits a nerve with Fetisov (or any of the other players, for that matter) there’s a wealth of repressed emotion that seems to be coming through for the first time. Fetisov might be the de facto star of the film, but the real emphasis is on the unit, which is exactly where it should be.