Mystery, Alaska is one of Russell Crowe’s best movies, and much like another movie of his, it’s currently taking off on streaming. This comedy-drama is currently ranking #6 on Hulu, a VOD streaming service. In this article, we’ll discuss the Mystery, Alaska movie, how it performed, and what made it so great that it ranked almost to the top, twenty-two years after its release.
The story of Mystery, Alaska is loosely based in the 1905 Stanley Cup game between Dawson City Nuggets and the Ottawa Senators, a David and Goliath story like none other, where Russell Crowe plays sheriff John Biebe, in a fictional town called Mystery, in Alaska.
Everything in Mystery revolves around the Saturday Game, a hockey match played by the local boys and men, who take their weekly event very seriously. One of the town’s former residents writes an article for Sports Illustrated about the Saturday Game in Mystery and how fierce and competitive the players’ are that reside in the small town.
The article refers to Russell Crowe’s character, the sheriff, who regularly plays the Saturday Game matches, as “slow in the feet” but concludes that the Mystery’s band of hockey players rival any team in the NHL. Through a series of events, John is called into the Mayor’s office, where he’s told that he’s dropped from the team in favor of a local high-schooler, Stevie Weeks.
After a series of events that include a semi-accidental shooting, Russell Crowe’s John is called back to the Mayor’s office, where he’s met by the author of the aforementioned article published in Sports Illustrated. Charles Danner (Hank Azaria) explains to the committee that the article he wrote got a lot of traction from the NHL and suggested an exhibition game between the local team and the New York Rangers.
Following a town meeting regarding the exhibition game, Russell Crowe’s John is asked to coach the team, which he refuses, but is later brought to the team as the team’s captain. Of course, the entire publicity stunt surrounding the article turns into a lopsided competition, as the New York Rangers reluctantly accept to play an exhibition match against people to whom hockey is not just a game, but a way of life and communal pride. There’s more at stake here than just the game; if they lose, the people of Mystery will also lose their dignity.
The movie ends with Mystery losing the game to the NY Rangers, with a score of 5 – 4 to the Rangers. However, the team has won the hearts of the people and of the Ranger players as well, as they’re seen applauding the Mystery Team. The NHL team departed the following day, reveal that two of the town’s youth have contracted for the minor leagues by the NHL.
At its core, the Mystery, Alaska is a pleasant and low-key viewing experience with some scenes that aren’t for the youthful audience. The movie revolves around the sports underdogs and small, rural towns who defy big corporations who threaten to destroy what small towns hold dear: rural sports’ pureness.
Despite its current popularity, the Russell Crowe movie underperformed financially at the time of its release in 1999. Mystery, Alaska received mixed-to-negative reviews, with the critics’ consensus that it lacked hockey action and authenticity. The movie performed so badly that it managed to gross just over $8.8 million, opposing the budget of $28 million. However, it was later nominated by the American Film Institute as one of the most inspiring sports films since 1998. Unfortunately, Mystery, Alaska won no rewards.
Russell Crowe, the actor behind the role of John Biebe, is a highly prolific and awarded actor. Though he didn’t win any rewards or nominations for Mystery, Alaska, his list of rewards spans from the 1992’s cult classic Romper Stomper to 2020’s The Loudest Voice. Crowe won the Academy Award for the Best Actor in the movie Gladiator and a Golden Globe for his role in the 2002’s A Beautiful Mind for his portrayal of John Nash.
And though Mystery, Alaska isn’t the shiniest work on Russell Crowe’s list of performances, it’s certainly a movie worth watching, especially if you have two hours to spend. Mystery, Alaska is an R-rated movie due to nudity, violence, and sexual imagery, so it might not be best suited for children and youths.