“The Russian Five” tells the fascinating tale of the rebuilding of the once-great Detroit Red Wings hockey club during the late 80’s and early 90’s, which included utilizing draft picks to select Russian players. Drafting them was one thing. Getting them to leave mother Russia during the Cold War era was another.
The movie begins with the telling of the story of how Sergei Fedorov, who was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings in the 4th round of the 1989 draft, was whisked away from a Russian team hotel by Red Wings front office personnel during the Good Will Games in 1990, signifying the beginning of the so-called “Russian Five”.
The movie continues by delving into the rebuilding of the once mighty Red Wings organization during the mid-to-late 80’s, all under the guise of new General Manager Jim Devellano, who is a cartoon character in his own right. Devellano, who was coming off three Stanley cup victories with the New York Islanders, was a recent hire by new Red Wings owner and Pizza magnate Mike Ilich.
Devellano’s plan was to re-build through the draft, which included drafting Russians Fedorov and Konstantinov in the 1989 draft, something that simply wasn’t done at the time. Once the picks were made, Jim Lites, Red Wings Executive Vice President, was responsible for getting the Russians to leave Russia and come to the NHL. Lites would use Red Wings beat writer (and author of The Russian Five) Keith Gave to go and make contact with the Russians, and begin the recruitment process.
The movie, an adaptation of the book “The Russian Five: A Story Of Espionage, Defection, Bribery and Courage”, by Keith Gave (Gold Star Publishing, 2018), contains all first hand accounts of the covert maneuvering by all of the key “players” involved in the creating of the Russian Five. The maneuvering included faking a cancer-scare and bribing Russian doctors to allow Konstantinov to come to the states with his family.
The first half of the movie is excellent, regardless if you are a Red Wings fan, or even a hockey fan. The first-hand accounts of the espionage, defection, bribery and courage to get Sergei Fedorov and Vladimir Konstantinov to leave Russia stand on their own for any movie genre.
The movie slows a bit midway for the casual hockey fan, or non-Red Wings fan, as the focus shifts somewhat to the Red Wings drive for their first championship since 1955. However, it also focuses on the creation of the Russian five-man unit, life in the states for the Russians, and thus, never fully leaves its primary focus.
It’s still a very interesting story at this point for most hockey fans who were fans in the 90’s and recall the Red Wings numerous failed attempts to win the Stanley Cup. The producers utilized cartoon renderings for some of the storytelling, which was interesting at first, but lost its edge as the movie progressed.
All-in-all, it was an excellent documentary movie. We give it four out of five pucks.
The movie is currently available on iTunes ($4.99 rent, 9.99 buy).