“I’ve done more in a chair than I did able-bodied.”
2005. Rated R. Directed by Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro. Featuring Mark Zupan, Joe Soares, Andy Cohn, Scott Hogsett, Bob Lujano, and Keith Cavill.
I had heard of quad rugby before, but it wasn’t until it was featured prominently in a storyline on Friday Night Lights that I saw what it actually was and that in turn was the impetus to rent Murderball, the Oscar-nominated 2005 documentary about the sport. It is a really entertaining, touching, funny and exciting film about the fast-paced, incredibly violent sport.
Murderball takes three separate but related stories and weaves them together with the background of the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. The film starts with the 2002 World Championships, where former U.S. star quad rugby player Joe Soares is now coaching Team Canada after a brutal falling-out (including a lawsuit) after being cut from the 1996 National Team.
Soares, a childhood polio victim, is an aggressive, hard-charging Type A personality, which given how violent the sport is, makes him an ideal coach. The film begins by painting him sort of as the villain, but he does become a somewhat sympathetic figure by the end and you understand why he is so bitter about the end of his career. A bulk of the storyline involves Soares’ family life and his relationship with his son, which does a good job of humanizing him.
The second storyline follows the U.S. National team from the World Championships, to tryouts, to the 2004 Games. Led by the face of quad rugby, Mark Zupan (who actually made an appearance on Friday Night Lights), we see the preparation and hard work it takes to play the sport, as well as the off-field lives of the players. Zupan, Andy Cohn, Scott Hodgsett and Bob Lujano (how he plays with no hands is absolutely ridiculous) are all engaging personalities and made it clear that they are just normal guys, wheelchair or not. And if you ever had any questions about quadriplegic sex, well, this movie will answer them.
This storyline features easily the most inspiring and poignant moments when Zupan invites his friend Chris, who was responsible for his accident to the Games in Athens. Though Zupan was the one who was paralyzed in the car accident, it really does seem as if it hurt Chris worse. To see that Zupan holds no grudge and how much that means to Chris really speaks to the nature of friendship.
The final story focuses on Keith Cavill, a recently paralyzed ex-motocross racer trying to deal with the depression that inevitably follows and his physical therapy. There are some difficult moments here, especially with his girlfriend, but there is a great scene where he discovers quad rugby for the first time.
With subject matter this entertaining, Rubin and Shapiro do a good job of letting the story speak for itself, only adding flourishes during the well-edited game scenes. My only complaint is the movie is fairly short considering they followed them for so long, and ends without much of a follow-up. The special features on the DVD do fill in some of the gaps.
Overall, though, Murderball is definitely worth seeing, a does exactly what a documentary should — highlight a story from a otherwise overlooked part of the world. I’m definitely curious to see who comes out on top in Beijing this year.