Monday 1 September 2008

Murderball (2005) - ickleReview (DVD)

Murderball bad-ass Mark Zupan. Photo source: United States Quad Rugby Association.

is a sport invented in Canada also known as wheelchair rugby. It is played by quadriplegic athletes in teams of four and is a cross between basketball, rugby, and ice-hockey. Each athlete is given a points value of 0.5-3.5 depending on their level of ability and movement. A team can have no more than 8 points on the court at a time. A quadriplegic is a person who has impairment in all four limbs, usually from a spinal injury, but it can also include amputees. This documentary directed by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro follows the USA quad rugby team for two and half years from the 2002 world championships in Stockholm to the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. It also tracks the Canadian coach, Joe Soares, star of the USA team at the 1996 Atlanta games. The USA and Canada were the two best teams in quad rugby leading up to 2004.

This is a great sports movie. The athletes have a brilliant attitude. Some of them say their lives changed for the better since they became quadriplegic, mainly because it has given them the opportunity to play quad rugby. It is a thrillingly fast and violent sport, played in customized wheelchairs with added armour and rollerblade front wheels, which look like the machines from Robot Wars.

The filmmakers give the film balance by telling the stories of long-term quadriplegics like Mark Zupan and Joe Soares alongside Keith Cavill, who sustained a spinal injury in a motocross accident shortly before the film was made. We see Keith in rehab, coming to terms with his new way of life; and we see Zupan, who has lived with his wheelchair for 11 years, since he was 18, and Soares, who had childhood polio. Zupan is a real star. He's an asshole, just like he was before he got injured, but a likeable asshole with a fuck-you attitude well suited to the tough, intense sport of Murderball, where one of the main aims is to run into your opponent so hard that you knock him over, out of his wheelchair, and out of the game.

It's quite appropriate that one of the extra features on this DVD is a Jackass Murderball special. That's the sort of attitude to life that some of these players have. These characters are surprisingly ballsy, overturning some of the stereotypes attached to people in wheelchairs. They still have an active sex life, enjoy drinking and going out, and are fiercely independent.

The film is given a natural trajectory by the build-up to Athens, and a plot-line through the rivalry between the USA and Canada. Coach Joe Soares fell out bitterly with the USA team when he was dropped for being too old and too slow, so he moved to Canada in defiance. Some of the American players and officials goad him with betraying his country. He just wants to win to prove them wrong.

Nugget: Murderball is a tremendously funny and moving film. It will change the way you think about people with disabilities.

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