August, 2005, Documentary

Directed by:Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro

Starring:Keith Cavill, Andy Cohn, Scott Hogsett, Christopher Igoe, Mark Zupan, Bob Lujano, and Joe Soares

Warning: this documentary, which profiles Canadian and American special rugby teams as they prepared for the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, (conducted immediately following the Olympic Games there and employing the same facilities) is not for the faint of heart. These quadriplegic athletes, who slam into each other with merciless velocity, aren’t long on social graces, but their furious refusal to engage in even the barest hint of self-pity makes them compulsively fascinating to watch and worthy of admiration. 

Co-directed by documentarians Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro, Murderball examines, warts and all, the coaches and players in this bone-crunching sport where winning is clearly seen by the participants as a crucial validation of their unique identities. Playing at this level isn’t a past-time, but an obsessive way of life. (When an American coach defects to direct the Canadian team, his decision is promptly labeled treasonous by his former players.) As the cameras follow the exhaustive training regimens and tryouts individual stories emerge, allowing these wheelchair-bound athletes to describe in their own words how they handle themselves on and off the court. No subject is taboo, from their sex lives (often vigorous) to the manner in which they deal with the circumstances which lead to their particular conditions. Wasting no time on the conventional niceties of social behavior and dealing with each other as bluntly as they handle themselves, the participants in these games exude machismo to rival the most gung-ho Marine hero; fittingly, the film ends with a demonstration of their sport to a group of newly disabled veterans from the war in Iraq still obviously dazed by the devastating reality of their post-combat lives.

As off-putting as their personas appear, it’s impossible to not to admire the courage and dedication of this hard-nosed lot and even more difficult to walk out of the theater without a newly found appreciation for the simple ability of being able to do so.

The Verdict? An absolute stunner.

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