The Russian Five (2019)

NR Running Time: 102 mins



  • Well-made, paced, and structured, The Russian Five is a sports documentary which finds nice balance between integrating the sports and politics of these athletes and their decisions to defect to the United States and play for the NHL and Detroit Red Wings.

  • Sports fans and certainly hockey fans will love this.

  • Paints a portrait of Detroit that we need to see.


  • If you do not have at least a passing interest in hockey, The Russian Five may be intermittently of interest to you.

  • Focus shifts a bit at times and some critics have pointed out that the film can be inconsistent in tone and message.

  • Leaves some questions on the table, as we ponder the impact these athletes had on both the United States and the Soviet Union.


Hockey fans will swoon over The Russian Five, a documentary about five Russian hockey stars who defected to America to join the Detroit Red Wings in the 1980s. Their arrival in the National Hockey League changed the sport forever and Joshua Riehl’s film explores the inner workings of how these highly coveted Russian athletes became NHL stars.

Featuring a whole host of recognizable hockey experts, athletes, and the talent themselves, The Russian Five feels timely, with Russian politics such an integral part of our daily political lives, in the weeks and months following the 2016 presidential election.

Revisiting the Cold War and remembering the political climate is something Riehl nails expertly well, and sets into proper context. However, for those who lack an interest in hockey, The Russian Five may fail to really connect with non-hockey fans. As a result, the movie could potentially limit its audience in that regard.

I do foresee this as a film that may show up on, say, ESPN, in the months and years to come, as it would be a perfect fit for something akin to the network’s 30-for-30 documentary series.

Timely, insightful, well-structured and thoughtful, The Russian Five finds a compelling example of how Russian/American connections existed during a time of great consternation between the Soviet Union and United States.

Watching the film in 2019, our world looks and feels different and Riehl’s ability to draw parallels between then and now, with hockey and sports as a filter, makes this a solid documentary worth making time for.


Documentary Featuring: Sergei Federov, Jim Devellano, Igor Larionov, Vyacheslav Kozlov, Viacheslav Fetisov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Scotty Bowman.

Director: Joshua Riehl
Written by: Keith Gave, Joshua Riehl, Jason Wheling.
Release Date: March 21, 2019
Lucky Hat Entertainment

*NOTE: This film was originally reviewed as part of coverage for the 2018 Seattle International Film Festival. The review has since been amended following a second viewing.