Red Army proves to be a riveting documentary about sporting politics

A sports documentary with riveting politics, Red Army charts the development of the Soviet Union’s state-controlled ice hockey team, covering a period during the 1980s and the 1990s.

Told from the perspective of the team’s army-employed stars (including fascinating champion Slava Fetisov) Red Army explores the impact of government coercion on the squad’s success, state of mind and personal freedoms from gruelling training regimes to separation from their families.

It’s surprising then that these decorated athletes also speak fondly about their team and the USSR.

By handing his documentary over to the players’ point of view, director Gabe Polsky thoroughly achieves his aim to ‘celebrate the art that emerged from such a charged and unique time in history’.

Original game footage testifies to the Red Army’s unique playing style: flair that’s baffling to players across the Pacific.

Polsky was raised by Soviet immigrants in the US and the clash between the two nations is never far from view.

The conflict between America’s capitalist dream and Russian communism plays out on the ice as Soviet players seek transfer to America’s NHL.

This ambition is exploited and blocked by an adversarial military who view the team as a symbol of Soviet excellence.

Game outcomes are used by both Russian and American commentators as evidence of their own nation’s political righteousness.

Polsky rarely loses sight of this absurdity, opening his film with a tongue-in-cheek public safety message from the 50s.

More than just a sports documentary, Red Army is a fascinating and often witty insight into teamwork, friendship and Russian-American relations.

4/5

Red Army is now available as an online rental, the same time as cinemas.