Documentary Movie Review: Murderball (2005) #AtoZChallenge

This is my entry for “M” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “M” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Mad Hot BallroomMan on Wire, Man With a Movie Camera, Maradona ’86March of the PenguinsMathematically AliveMiss Sharon Jones!Mysteries of the Rimet TrophyThe Myth of Garrincha and possibly My Winnipeg.

Release Date: July 22, 2005
Director: Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro
Production Company: MTV Films | Paramount Pictures | Participant Productions | A&E IndieFilms

Murderball is the original name for a team sport played by athletes with quadrapalegia that is officially known as wheelchair rugby.  Players used modified wheelchairs on a basketball court to attempt to carry or pass a ball across the goal line.  Defenders try to stop them by smashing into the ball carrier with their wheelchairs. The documentary focuses on the period of 2002-2004 when the USA men’s national wheelchair rugby team, which had been undefeated in international competitions up to that point, and their rivalry with the upstart Canadian national team.

Three subjects get special focus.  USA star Mark Zupan is a pure jock with an angry streak (there’s no shortage of testosterone in this movie) and one of the best players in the sport.  His ongoing reconciliation with his high school friend who was the driver in the truck crash that caused Zupan’s injury is an ongoing story of the movie.  Joe Soares was a key member of Team USA up through the 1996 Paralympics and then was cut from the team due to age.  With a chip on his shoulder, Soares has become the coach of Team Canada with his mission to defeat the United States.  The movie also focuses on his strained relationship with his preteen son and suffering a heart attack. Finally there is Keith Cavill who has recently suffered injury and learns about the sport while in rehabilitation.

The personal stories of the athletes, coaches, and their family members make up the better part of the movie, focusing on details of how they adapt to life without full use of their limbs (including a section on sexual activity).  The movie is built around three tense games between the USA and Canada – one at the 2002 World Championship, a 2004 Paralympics qualifying game, and concluding with their matchup in the 2004 Paralympics in Athens.  I won’t give away the results, but the games are fascinating to watch.  I actually wish there was more footage of the sport and hope to have the opportunity to see it played in person one day.

Rating: ****

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