USA’s Mark Zupan has the ball. Let him through or he will hurt you.

Golden Mug

WINNER: Documentary

Theatrical Release Date: 07/08/2005
Directors: Henry Alex Rubin & Dana Adam Shapiro

Looking for a movie with car crashes, fist fights and polio? Then look no farther than “Murderball”. Of course, the aforementioned events aren’t really played out in this documentary, they are just some of the ways in which certain people in the film came to become quadriplegics. And instead of sitting on the sidelines, watching life pass them by, the individuals in “Murderball” decided to take life by the horns and hit back.

The word ‘Murderball’ is the less glamorous (but far cooler) name for wheelchair rugby. The film primarily focuses on Team USA, as they compete in the 2002 World Championships and 2004 Paralympic Games. Through the film, the audience is introduced to the speed and power of the game and gets a look at the extraordinary abilities and attitudes of its athletes.

There are also two other main tangents. The first looks at one of the greatest former American wheelchair rugby players, who after missing out on being selected to the ’96 Games in Atlanta, ends up the coach of the Canadian Team. The other is about a young man who just recently became a quadriplegic and is learning to cope with the ramifications of that. Each story is told well, and helps to round out the audience’s understanding and empathy for what quadriplegics have to go through as a part of everyday life, both as people and as athletes representing their country.

What sets this documentary apart is that it does not dwell on the negative. It celebrates the camaraderie of the teams and the support systems that surround people who have lost different levels of functionality. “Murderball” does not try to play the sympathy card, it simply shows us how the team prepares to compete and how they try to create a better sense of understanding in the community around them. Though, as can be expected, one leaves this film with a bit of guilt for complaining about that jerk who forgot to put a plastic fork in the take-out bag.

As this is a documentary, it’s a bit tough to focus on things like acting or plot. The game footage is done well, though with the small budget they had, of course not everything is always in focus or perfectly centered on the action. Still, the most thrilling moments are the games, and I found myself wishing I could have watched each game play out fully, rather than have them capsulated to help move the story along. Also, the filmmakers did a nice job balancing the three stories, to keep them fresh and to weave them together.

This is an extremely well-done documentary and if you should find yourself on the fence, let this review serve as a push in the back to get into the theater. Amidst a high tide of Hollywood refuse, “Murderball” is a life-saver, helping you stay afloat. No alcohol is really necessary for this one. A 4 out of 5, I poured out the Chuckpucker out on the curb for my homies on Team USA. This is easily one of the best documentaries of the year so far and I hope it isn’t forgotten come award season.