Review: Murderball

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Rivalries can be found in just about every sport. From baseball to basketball to hockey, and everything in between, a rivalry between two teams is often a driving component in the world of sports. Hell, there was even a nasty rivalry between two local high school teams here in Vancouver. In the world of wheelchair rugby the most heated rivalry is composed of the Americans and Canadians. Once dominators in the sport, in recent years the U.S. team has fallen to the Canadians at a number of key championship events. Adding fuel to the fire is the departure of key member, Joe Soares, who was cut from the U.S. team only to jump ship and become the Canadians' new coach. Angered over getting cut from the team, he becomes vigilant in his quest to show just what a mistake the Americans made. How dare they cut such a well known (in his mind, anyway) and top player from the squad. Of course, the U.S. and star player Mark Zupan have other things in mind, and throughout the years prior to the eventual showdown at the 2004 ParaOlympics, go through intense training to take their old friend down. Just which team will come out on top remains to be seen, as the chairs hit the court for an intense game of Murderball.

Murderball is not only an entertaining piece of motion picture filmmaking and an above average documentary, but will also serve as a learning experience for many audience members. Murderball works hard to dispel the notion that disabled people are helpless and fragile human beings. Throughout the film, the action sequences and during the interviews with players, coaches, friends, and family members, it's clear that just because these men are chairbound does not mean they are any less capable of doing many day-to-day activities. In many cases, the experience of being in a wheelchair has shown them just how important life is and just how much you can accomplish if you set your mind and put your heart into it.

In addition to the general information on wheelchair users, it also does a good job of introducing the sport of Wheelchair Rugby into the mainstream. Originally developed in the late 70s in Canada and coined Murderball, the name was changed in order to gain more mainstream acceptence. After all, do you really expect Pepsi to sponsor something with the term 'murder' in the name? I think not. The game is fairly simple, borrowing elements from rugby and basketball with teams going end to end in a fast paced and violent game. Players are ranked and scored on a point system depending on their functionality, and each team is not allowed to have more than 8.0 points total on the floor at any one time.

Directors Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin's feature film works on three different levels. It works as a human interest piece, an entertaining feature film with a basic sports storyline, as well as a documentary that informs audience members both able-bodied and disabled about a sport and culture they may otherwise be unfamiliar with. From a technical standpoint, the film moves at a fast clip with strong MTV-style editing and a non-traditional approach to documentary filmmaking. Game footage is fun to watch and the viewer does truly get a sense of what it's like to be on the court front and center with the action. By adding a human and real aspect to a tried and true sports story about a rivalry between two teams, the directors have not only forged an interesting documentary that will please fans of that genre, but also a film that is extremely accessible to more mainstream audiences including teens who otherwise might not be caught dead seeing a "documentary".

It's often difficult for documentaries to find a wider audience beyond cinephiles due to the fact that a younger segment of the movie audience is often more interested in seeing fictional stories with a lot of things blowing up or gratuitous nudity. However, Murderball has a good chance at attracting a decent-sized audience because, in addition to being a documentary, it also is a highly entertaining sports story not unlike something you might see churned out of Hollywood. It's also a touching and informative piece of filmmaking that will make you laugh and cry and perhaps even become more informed about the ability level of people in wheelchairs, showcasing the fact that just because they may not be able to walk they are still able to do just as many things as us able-bodied folk. The film was a big hit at Sundance and stands a chance at becoming a sizable hit for distributor ThinkFilm. Do yourself a favour and give the film a shot. You won't be disappointed with it, and once you're done be sure to recommend it to your friends. It's a piece of movie-making that should be seen. Recommended.

Murderball is currently in limited release throughout the U.S. as well as in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. It expands in Canada on July 29th.

Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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