Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Flick of The Day: Mystery, Alaska

Sport is one of those subjects which is perfectly suited to the big screen, full of natural drama and high and lows which lend themselves to the cinematic arts. Some sports are of course more suited then others with Boxing being the most overly mined since the days of silent cinema. As noted in our review of When Saturday Comes, a good rule of thumb is that the less sporting action on screen, the better the film works as a piece of drama or comedy. The most successful sporting dramas have been those which dealt with more obscure sports or aspects of sport such as Chariots of Fire, Field of Dreams and This Sporting Life. In this vein then, is this obscure enough ice hockey drama, Mystery Alaska, which never received a cinematic release on this side of the bond and yet is strangely compelling and today's flick of the day.
Starring Russell Crowe, as a Sheriff in a small town in Alaska devoted to its ice hockey team above all other considerations. Every Saturday, they play off against each other in their "Saturday Game". After 13 years on the team, Crowe's John Biebe is dropped in favour of a younger player however after a magazine article highlights their prowess and leads to a challenge match against the much vaunted New York Rangers, John is called back to coach the team and defend the town's honour. John's fellow townsfolk are rounded out by a fine supporting cast including the always entertaining Colm Meaney as the Mayor and a remarkably restrained Burt Reynolds as the Judge. 
While by no means a classic, there is much to enjoy here with some fine turns from the ensemble cast. This is perhaps the real flaw of the film, there are so many characters and treads to the storyline that we never really get to see anyone in much detail. There is a brief interlude about Meaney's philandering wife, another section with a player on trial, Crowe's worries about his wife's wandering eye, all too brief. However the film is held together by the classic tale of the underdog. It's David v  Goliath on a frozen pond.

Donna Biebe: Every ex-player turned coach says that they prefer coaching over playing. Why would they all say that?
John Biebe: Because they can't play.

All in all, the film makes the best of what it has going for it. A fine cast make the best of a limited script with Crowe being his reliable action man self and Meaney batting it straight as the Mayor. Shot on location in Alaska, there is some fine scenery on show and while the film is guilty of the usual Hollywood portrayal of small towns, it is at least a flattering one rather than some Deliverance parody. And yes that is Mike Myers in a blink and you will miss it cameo role and yes Little Richard does sing the national anthem. Draw your own conclusions.

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