Freedom’s Fury

“Freedom’s Fury” is what happens when the Cold War decides to take a dip in the Olympic pool.

It’s a chlorine-soaked tale of underdogs, uppercuts, and unlikely heroes who proved that sometimes the best way to fight tyranny is with a mean backstroke.

I owe thanks to Rich Wilde (a solid water polo player in his day) for this tip.

Trailer for “Freedom’s Fury”

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  • My Rating: 93/100
  • IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
  • Rotten Tomatoes Ratings: 100/100 (Users); na/100 (Critics)

Release Date: 2006 (at a bunch of festivals)

Review of “Freedom’s Fury”

It’s like “Chariots of Fire” meets “Dr. Zhivago,” if both of those movies had significantly more Speedos and Cold War drama.

This isn’t just about water polo. It’s about a nation’s soul doing the backstroke through turbulent times.

The film centers on the infamous “Blood in the Water” match at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.

As the Games approach, Hungary pushes to liberate itself from Soviet control.

They succeed, but a crucial question emerges:

Will the newly free Hungary’s top-notch water polo team be allowed into the Olympics?

Meanwhile, global tensions escalate. Britain, France, and Israel launch a surprise attack on the Egyptian-controlled Suez Canal.

Here, Hungary and the Soviet Union turned a semifinal into a geopolitical grudge match. It would make even the most rabid Yankees-Red Sox rivalry look like a friendly game of Marco Polo.

Directors Colin Gray and Megan Raney Aarons weave together archival footage, interviews, and dramatic tension.

They’ve created a film that makes your average summer blockbuster look like a kiddie pool.

They’ve assembled a roster of talking heads that includes Quentin Tarantino.

Yes, that Quentin Tarantino!

The film does a masterful job of setting the scene: 1956 Hungary.

The locals had decided they’d had enough of being the Soviet Union’s least favorite satellite state.

As Budapest erupts in revolution, our aquatic heroes are training for Olympic glory. Their minds are split between gold medals and the fate of their nation.

But Hungary’s 13 days of freedom come to a brutal end. Russia’s Khrushchev sends a surprise attack against Hungary’s rebels: 2,000 tanks, the same number Hitler used to repel England and take over France.

The heart of the story is Ervin Zádor, the 21-year-old Hungarian water polo prodigy.

Zádor’s bloodied face became the symbol of the match and, by extension, his country’s struggle.

Zádor and his teammates are portrayed not just as athletes, but as reluctant symbols of resistance.

The directors don’t shy away from the brutality of water polo.

It’s a sport that combines the grace of swimming with the “enthusiastic physical negotiations” of ice hockey.

Then we get to the climactic match.

The semifinals match-up: Hungary versus Russia.

Hungary goes up 4-0.

In the final minutes, a Russian player sucker-punches Zádor “windmill” style, sending him out of the game — and bloodied.


Hungary is ruled the winner.

But “Freedom’s Fury” isn’t just about who won or lost a game.

Well, yeah it is.

But it’s also about the power of sports to capture the zeitgeist, to become a proxy for larger struggles.

It’s about young men carrying the weight of a nation’s hopes on their broad, chlorine-scented shoulders.

The story doesn’t end with the infamous match.

Hungary goes on to win the finals against Yugoslavia, clinching the gold even without Zádor.

So, whether you’re a history buff, a sports fanatic, or just someone who appreciates a good underdog story told with gusto, “Freedom’s Fury” delivers.

It’s a reminder that sometimes, the most powerful revolutions don’t just happen in the streets. They happen in speedos, with a whole lot of splashing.

“Freedom’s Fury” – because nothing says “fight the power” quite like a well-executed egg-beater kick.

The documentary’s bonus comes 46 years after the events.

That’s when Hungarian players and a few Soviet players reunite for the first time.

In a poignant moment of reconciliation, they even toss around the ball in the pool together, proving that sometimes, water really can wash away the past.

Thanks for reading!

Rob Kelly, Chief Maniac, Daily Doc