Unlike the Jackass TV show with which it shares its name, Murderball is the kind of human interest documentary aimed at inspiring audience and cleaning up at the ceremonies. It’s also garnered a clutch of awards for first time directors Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry-Alex Rubin.
Murderball documents the lives of the American Quadraplegic Rugby team over a two year period and, rather than worthy, is a wildly entertaining, assumption shattering, action packed treat that should be mandatory viewing for the masses.
Murderball is a full contact rugby game, rough-tough and twice as hard because it is played in Mad Max-style wheel chairs. This is not just another sports movie though. It shows Team USA’s gruelling journey to the 2004 Athens Paralympics in search of victory over bitter rivals Canada (who, in a twist of Hollywood proportions, are coached by a disgruntled former Team USA member) and reveals the people behind the disabilities. In the process it is inspiring, passionate and captivating.
Characters such as the tattooed, heavy metal loving team captain Mark Zupan and the bitter, perfidious quad rugby veteran Joe Soares provide the film with a tapestry of themes and plots, spanning family life, revenge, sex, and of course the quest for athletic achievement.
“We’re not here for a pat on the back and a smile that says ‘well done’: we’re here for the fucking Gold Medal!” is the attitude that takes the team to the 2004 Paralympics. This is no ‘happy to participate’ team of ‘special sports people’ but a hardened group of athletes with enough determination and focus to instil fear into the toughest of opponents.
Murderball was the original name given to one of the most brutal, high contact sport in the world; Wheelchair Rugby. Played by quadriplegics strapped into gladiatorial armoured wheelchairs, the players hurtle themselves across a basketball court, striving to cross into the end zone of the opponents half to score. Needless to say much crunching of metal, cursing and high speed collisions take place en route to an industrial metal soundtrack courtesy of underground legends Ministry amongst others.
The editing and traversing between various characters stories throughout the 90 minute film is seamless, while the addition of technical sketches depicting players spinal cord injuries present detailed medical subject matter in a brilliant, lo-fi visual montage that avoids voyeuristic surgery theatre gore and anatomical jargon.
The film is at its best in challenging the stereotypes that able-bodied people impose on people with disabilities. It crushes widely held misconceptions regarding quadriplegics and their ‘quality of life’ and challenges any patronising sympathy you may ever have felt like bestowing on disabled people, forcing you to empathise with other human beings who happen to have to deal with disabilities. You are left feeling admiration and appreciation for a group of men whose lives are richer and altogether more fulfilled than the majority of ‘able bodied’ people on the planet.