Cinema Review: Red Penguins | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, September 26th, 2020  

Red Penguins

Studio: Universal
Directed by Gabe Polsky

Aug 07, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Hockey was no mere game for the businessmen behind the Russian Penguins. Gabe Polsky's new documentary briskly depicts Russia's post-Soviet skates-and-pucks brush with capitalism. And like the nimble stick handling of the most talented Ruskie players to partake in those pioneering games, Polsky deftly ties commentary about geopolitics and classism into his turn of the century sports saga.

It's a tale of putrid corruption, hilarious culture clashes, and tragic violence. Those elements all stem from Pittsburgh Penguins owner Howard Baldwin's early 1990s investment in Moscow's then struggling Red Army backed team. Polsky not only shoots and scores (in every sense of the phrase) with vintage clips of the circus bears and strippers trotted on the Moscow arena's ice for intermission entertainment. His documentary also boasts candid interviews with the aged oligarchs and swindled American sports reps behind those games.

By leaving in awkward pauses and gaffes, moments of dreaded paranoia about mafia wrath, and surprising reactions to contradictory takes on the Russian Penguins' palace intrigue, the interview footage fully fleshes out characters that would have been relegated to talking heads in lesser hands. That being said, the material would be tough to render anything less than fascinating, given the international intrigue, once in a lifetime business opportunities fresh after the Iron Curtain's fall, and throngs of eager game goers witnessing sports history unfold on center ice. The grimness of daily life for those average Russians, and the brutal retribution that outspoken higher-ups endured at the hands of the state, remain among the most memorable moments in a documentary that breathlessly body checks a formidably complex and fiercely fascinating part of sports lore.

Author rating: 8/10

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