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MYSTERY ALASKA

About The Story
"Mystery, Alaska" is more than a sports movie. It's a David and Goliath story about a small town rising to a very big challenge. Emmy Award winner David E. Kelley ("The Practice," "Ally McBeal," "Picket Fences") and Sean O'Byrne team up to write a character-driven drama that relies on humor, fast-paced hockey and a small town's undying belief in miracles.

"The great thing about this film," says director Jay Roach, "is that it has a lot of comedy as well as some fairly serious drama. It's in the tradition of David Kelley's body of work. As you can tell from all his shows, he combines serious issues with very funny material. That's something I really relate to."

Sean O'Byrne, who plays hockey with Kelley on a recreational team in Los Angeles, compares writing the "Mystery, Alaska" screenplay with Kelley to playing hockey with Wayne Gretsky. "You keep your stick on the ice and good things happen," he says. "In the same regard, you keep your pen on the paper and good things also happen. The successful writing of 'Mystery, Alaska' was, for me, like winning the Stanley Cup."

Drawn to the engaging story and entertaining characters and inspired by sports films like "Hoosiers" and "Slapshot," Jay Roach agreed to direct this movie despite knowing very little about the sport.

"When I accepted this film, I took it with some trepidation because I knew very little about hockey," explains Roach. "But I felt like I understood the emotions, the dilemmas and the relationship problems that athletes, and people who are connected to sports, have. It is a sports film, but only to a certain extent. It's much more a film about how people cling together against the harshest natural obstacles and conditions, such as weather, altitude and isolation. It's also about how they stick together when they're trying to take on something that's beyond the limits of their own world.

"This sport becomes like a ritual, something that bonds them together," continues Roach. "Whenever there is something that unifies different people with different interests that strongly, you're automatically drawn to it. We all want to find what we have in common with each other—and in this particular town, it just happens to be hockey."

Russell Crowe plays Sheriff John Biebe, the town's soft-spoken law enforcer and a 13-year veteran of Mystery's prestigious pond hockey team. Growing up in Australia, Crowe played his fair share of sports, but had never skated before preparing for this role. "This is the hardest sport I've ever tried," he says. "I love it and hate it at the same time."

Crowe's character is less ambivalent about his passion for the sport. When the town's hockey committee asks Biebe to step down from the team to allow a younger, faster rising star to join, he must face something he has long been dreading.

"There's a great but subtle journey my character has to go through in this film," Crowe says. "For 13 seasons he's played in the Saturday game, then suddenly he's 34 years old, and a 17-year-old kid who's a better skater comes along and Biebe is taken off the team. As soon as he's removed from the game, the biggest hockey event Mystery has even known happens when the New York Rangers come to play the town team. Internally he's falling apart, but he has to maintain the appearance of self-assurance.

No one can remember a time when Biebe hasn't played in the Saturday game, least of all his wife Donna, played by Mary McCormack. Donna has never seen Biebe so low and now finds herself in the middle of a renewed rivalry between her husband and her former boyfriend, Charlie Danner (Hank Azaria), as they prepare for the big game.

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