When the word documentary is used, the assumption is that it will be boring or serious, but in the case of Red Army, neither is entirely necessary. Nearly everyone is familiar with the movie Miracle and perhaps aware that it depicts an underdog story about the US overcoming the menacing Soviet Union in a winter Olympics. Red Army asks, and subsequently answers, “What if the other side of the story was even more interesting?”

The primary subject of the film is Slava Fetisov, who was captain of the Red Army Soviet Union hockey team. Starting out as a determined young boy and going all the way up to where he is today, his hockey career is nothing short of incredible. His interviews anchors the film tremendously with a great mixture of humor, emotion, and overall willingness to share his life experience. As Fetisov goes through his personal history, we see the parallel story of the Soviet Union as a whole, and he is the perfect representative of what the Soviet experience was like at that time. The reason the film works so well is because hockey is a narrow enough subject to dive into, but because of the value and the cultural connection hockey has to the Russians and former Soviets, it helps make sense of bigger political messages.

The reason the film works so well is because hockey is a narrow enough subject to dive into, but because of the value and the cultural connection hockey has to the Russians and former Soviets, it helps make sense of bigger political messages.

It’s rare that a film covers a serious topic without turning it into something drab, but Red Army manages to find fun within the entire story, in large part due to Fetisov’s off-beat interpretation of the interview questions and occasional language barrier. The film is also strongly boosted by the sport of hockey itself and a mass of great archive footage strung together to remind you how exciting this sport is. It also manages to educate about the difference between the Soviet and American hockey styles and why one was more successful, without coming across as a coaching video.

Overall, the film feels incredibly well put together, covering an ideal scope of material and still representing something larger. It is informative, engaging, funny, and even at times quite heartfelt. Red Army is not an attempt to celebrate the Soviet Union, nor is it saying how awful of a republic it was. Instead, it takes the people, like Fetisov, and shows just that: they are individuals with emotional range just like us, and they have a story worth listening to. I just found out that this film won the audience award at AFI Film Festival, where I saw it. I am not remotely surprised; above all else, this is a film that was meant to be entertaining and worth viewing for all.