Written and Directed by Dana Adam Shapiro
Rated R for strong language and sexuality.
"She was all 'I thought quadriplegics couldn't move?' and I said that, no, some can and some can't move as much. Being quadriplegic means you have impaired use of all four limbs.", explains an athlete in the movie Murderball which is in limited release throughout Socal right now. How can a guy play rugby in a wheelchair? Watch the documentary Murderball, which gets it's name from the former name of the sport, to find out. These guys may have impaired use of their limbs but they can still kick butt as the movie sets out to prove.
The film focuses on the US and Canada teams battling to gain the gold medal at the 2004 Quadriplegic Olympics. As the film opens we watch Mark Zupan, a player on the US team strap himself into his chair slap on his earphones and hit the road for his morning exercise. Zupan, as everyone calls him, ended up a quad when one night had fallen asleep in the back of his best friends pick-up. As his drunk friend drove home he crashed, ejecting Zupan from the bed of the truck and into a watery ditch. Zupan was discovered 14 hours later clinging to a branch and calling for help. Zupan's gradual reconciliation with his friend, who later travels to Greece for the big game, offers the film it's emotional arch.
We also meet Joe Soares a former star player for the US quadriplegic rugby team who has moved on to coach for team Canada after not making the US team one year. Joe is a, tough as nails, born competitor who seems to seek revenge on the team that he feels discarded him for younger players. So focused is Joe that at one point in the film his wife raises a glass to him on their 22nd wedding anniversary and says, "To you.". Joe raises a glass and replies "To Canada."
But as Joe and Mark Zupan become the human figureheads of the drama they are surrounded in we meet the other players. All share their personal stories of how they became quadriplegics. One contracted a rare blood disease at age 9 and had his limbs amputated. Another was in a car accident. "With quads it's like the first year or two you're learning how to do everything all over. You can't even wipe your butt." Says Andy, an athlete for the US team, "Those first two years are the hardest. If you make it past that you're alright."
It's not all serious and somber though. The film is not built to make you overly sorry for these guys as many of them see nothing to feel sorry about. "I do more now that I am in this wheelchair, than I did when I could walk." Says one athlete speaking to other recently paralyzed individuals. At one point in the film the US team plays a practical joke on a hotel worker by hiding one of there guys in a box and asking for help in picking it up. We hear about their sex lives. "It takes about 15 to 20 mins for a girl to ask if it still works." says Andy. "They always ask that."
Murderball is one of the best documentaries I've seen in a long time. It's a visceral, heart pounding sports documentary that inspires without going the typical route of the "overcoming disabilities" movies by pandering to simple compassion. It frankly discusses it's subject matter without becoming aloof and remote. It pulls you into a world that you hardly knew existed and makes you a better person for it. See this movie!