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Murderball

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 07/21/05 23:45:48

"Now THIS is what an extreme-sports documentary should be like"
5 stars (Awesome)

It was Jean-Luc Godard, I believe, who once said that the best way to critique a movie was to make another movie. This past spring saw the quick release and fade of “Dust to Glory,” a documentary on an extreme-sports subculture–in this case, the world of off-road racing. I didn’t think that film was very good because it didn’t present its subject in a manner that was at all interesting to anyone not already predisposed to the subject. (Of course, some folks disagreed with that assessment and responded with missives chock-full of death threats, grotesque homophobia and even more grotesque spelling errors.) Instead of patiently explaining in detail to them why I disliked the film, I can now simply point them in the direction of “Murderball,” an electrifying new documentary that also takes a look at a physically demanding niche sport, yet does so in such a compelling and compulsively watchable manner that even those with no interest in sports will find themselves utterly captivated by it.

Inspired by, of all things, an article in “Maxim” magazine, the film turns its cameras on the world of quadriplegic rugby–an astonishingly brutal version of the game played by intensely competitive individuals slamming around in armor-plated wheelchairs–it takes a look at the members of the US Paralympic Games team (not the Special Olympics, they want you to know) and their lives as they prepare for a championship battle against their bitter Canadian rivals, a team coached by Joe Soares, a former US legend who missed the cut for the ‘96 team and who, purely out of spite and revenge, went to Canada to coach their team instead.

Although the film, co-directed by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro, is never sentimental for a moment (we see the players as they drink, curse, smash each other around and obsess about sex), they have come up with a film that is simultaneously hilarious, brutal and touching. More importantly, it contains, in Soares and American star player Mark Zupan, two of the most electrifying characters you will see on a movie screen this year. These are not two sports rivals who are nevertheless brothers under the skin because of their common disability–these are two guys who hate each others guts with a violent fury and each would be perfectly happy to crush the other like a bug if given the chance. Their mutual hatred is palpable and gives the film an added kick that another documentary on the same subject probably would have chosen to avoid.

Not just a good movie about the world of handicapped sports, “Murderball” is one of the most compelling and entertaining films–documentary or otherwise–of the year and it is one of the best sports-related films ever made.

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