Russell Crowe's Gladiator on Ice
A good way to describe "Mystery Alaska" is to say it is a mixture of "Slapshot" and "Northern Exposure", where the ice hockey and the sentiments of the town's folk carries a message about hope and belief. This is one of the many movies that Russell Crowe appeared in before he hit the big time as Maximus in "Gladiator" and although this was never a huge hit, it is still an entertaining movie. It has mixture of comedy, romance, drama and of course ice hockey, but for anyone who is not keen on sports movies don't be put off, as "Mystery Alaska" does not actually dwell on the ice hockey for too long.
Ice hockey is not just a game for the town's folk of Mystery in Alaska; it is a way of life. Each week they gather round the frozen pond to cheer on the local hero's battle it out with stick and puck as they split into two teams. When former resident and journalist Charles Danner (Hank Azaria - Grosse Pointe Blank), writes an article about the ice hockey men of Mystery in Sports Illustrated, it has a far reaching effect. The town's folk always believed that their men were a match for any professional outfit, but when Charles arranges a match between the local men and the New York Rangers, the towns peaceful and friendly atmosphere changes as competition for a place in the team causes unrest.
The storyline to "Mystery Alaska" is surprisingly good as it is multi-levelled, the main story is the town's folk belief in the team, but there is also the story on one man trying to prove himself to his father, and another man realising that although his wife loves him, perhaps the little town of Alaska doesn't have enough to keep her happy. There is a story line in "Mystery Alaska" for nearly everyone who watches it, and it does a decent enough job of not spreading itself too thinly between them.
Russell Crowe who plays the town's sheriff as well as long term hockey player, John Biebe is the main star in "Mystery Alaska". Crowe is brilliant in this role which allows him to display a more light hearted character unlike his appearances in "A Beautiful Mind" and "Gladiator". The role of the former resident and journalist, Charles Danner, is played by Hank Azaria and he does a brilliant job of playing a character that has left the small town, but a bit of it is always in his heart. There are some great supporting actors which include Burt Reynolds, Mary McCormack, Colm Meaney the list is endless and each one puts in brilliant performances. Watch out for a cameo appearance by Mike Myers as a commentator.
"Mystery Alaska" is directed by Jar Roach who also directed "Meet the Parents". His approach to the movie is to allow the performances of the stars to tell the story, through their emotions. He has not had to rely on over use ice hockey action or any amazing special effects to make this movie a little gem. The only thing he has used, and this is done really well, is the beautiful scenery with Canmore, Alberta making for a lovely backdrop. Where he has showed ice hockey action he has done a brilliant job of showing the speed and the passion involved and not just used it as padding.
Part of the enjoyment of "Mystery Alaska" comes in the humour and there are loads of other humorous moments during the movie, look out for the scene where a property developer visits the local shop, this ranks with the opening sequence to "Four Weddings and a Funeral" for the number of expletives in a minute. The soundtrack also does an adequate job through out the movie and never intrudes on the scenes.
What this all boils down to is that "Mystery Alaska" is one of Crowe's little gems which seems to go undetected by most people, which is a shame, as it shows him in a completely different light. There is something for everyone in this, romance, humour, sports action and great story. I would recommend this to everyone as it is a beautiful movie which leaves you feeling satisfied.