Movie Information

Genre: Documentary
Director: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro
Starring: Mark Zupan, Joe Soares, Bob Lujano, Keith Cavill
Rated: R

Everybody’s talking about it. It’s won numerous awards and will probably get nominated for an Oscar, but this is the kind of movie that no one wants to see.

We don’t really want to remember how fragile the human body is. Let’s pretend there’s no such thing as the statistical inevitability caused by sports, accidents, disease and war. Paralyzed people make able-bodied people downright uncomfortable — all that repressed fear and pity, seesawing compassion and, let’s face it, curiosity (Can a quadriplegic guy, you know, can he still do it?). Inevitably, we compare ourselves to them and find ourselves lacking. If such an awful thing should happen to me, we say, I’d never be as courageous as that stranger.

Murderball is a reminder that courage is often hidden until it’s needed. And like a magic potion, it grows every day, because every day, 24 hours a day, it’s tested.

This remarkable movie is the story of several players on the U.S. and Canadian quad rugby teams and their journey to Athens for the Paralympics. Quad rugby is played by men who have, to one degree or another, lost the use of their four limbs but are able to operate a wheelchair. The chairs have been modified to withstand the heavy, relentless battering that happens in the sport’s Mad Max style. These athletes ain’t Mr. Nice Guy. Their goal is to kick some butt, and if you end up on the floor flopping like a fish, hey, dude, no problem — get back in the game, you wimp!

You’ve never seen a sports story like this one, nor such a collection of irreverent, R-rated heroes. Yes, their courage is impressive. After seeing what fate put them through — and what they have to do now to become champions, you admire them. But the greater accomplishment of the film is not so obvious. The directors, Rubin and Shapiro, are new at this, but they know the importance of nuance and subtlety, and how to exit a scene at exactly the right moment. The result is an unsentimental, eye-opening and unforgettable experience that leaves you wanting more. The film’s low budget notwithstanding, Murderball is no-frills in every sense: It’s down and dirty, risk-taking and brutally honest.

The heroes in Murderball prove that they have feet of clay (if they even have feet, which some don’t). They’re just as real as the rest of us. They are us. Mark Zupan is the ferocious young madman of the American team. He hates Joe Soares, the most highly awarded American quad athlete, who is now coaching the Canadian team. Bob Lujano, who has no legs, is a philosopher with an outrageous sense of humor. For these proven athletes, being a rugby player is old hat. Still to learn what it’s all about is Keith Cavill, who was injured in a motocross accident and is still in the early post-accident stages of rage and denial. One moment in a rugby chair is all Cavill needs to prove to him that life isn’t over — it’s just going to charge like hell in another direction. Rated R for language and sexual content.

— reviewed by Marci Miller

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