Top Docs on Netflix: Red Army

Top Docs on Netflix is an occasional series where POV staffers take a second look at notable docs currently available on the streaming service.

by Jeremy Wedeles

Red Army
(Russia/USA, 84 min.)
Dir. Gabe Polsky

THE STORY: Red Army tells the story of the impossibly talented Russian national hockey team towards the end of the Cold War. The Red Army team dominated the international stage for over a decade in the late 70’s-80’s and served as a major tool for propaganda within the Soviet Union. (These days, the team is perhaps best known for its defeat at the hands of team USA in the “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics.) Ultimately, Red Army reveals the cost of being on top in Soviet Russia: 11-month training regimens, seclusion from family and friends and strict supervision by the KGB.

WHY IT’S WORTH WATCHING: The doc’s director Gabe Polsky powerfully depicts the dehumanization of the Russian athletes, forced to train with the same intensity of their military comrades. Through interviews with players and experts intercut with archival footage, Polsky demonstrates the toll this program had on the young men representing their nation. Players endured four daily practices, with one later admitting that the schedule led to him “pissing blood.”

PIVOTAL MOMENT: At one point, Polsky asks a player (Slava Fetisov) if their coach was such a powerful officer he could do whatever he wanted. Fetisov responds by asking, “What do you mean powerful? He wasn’t powerful, he was a part of the system.” As someone born after the end of the Cold War, I find it can be hard to understand the Communist mentality, but this scene provides particularly strong insight into the totality of the Soviet mentality.

FINAL SHOT: On the surface, Red Army is a sports doc with a political angle, but in reality it digs into the mindset of the people and the government in the final years of the Cold War. Red Army captures the beauty and outlandishness of the Soviet sports world, and exposes the dark reality that even the heroes of the people were subject to the rule of the regime.