Movie Review by Dan Spiers
Starring: Mark Zupan, Joe Soares, Keith Cavill, Andy Cohn, Scott Hogsett,
Directors: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro
Murderball, or quad-rugby, is a brutal Para-Olympic wheelchair sport for quadriplegics. Athletes career around a basketball sized court in wheelchairs from Mad Max, metal crunching, heads clunking, as they hurtle into, under and over each other in order to score tries.
Directed by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro the movie explores the rivalry between the USA and Canadian teams from the 2002 World Championship in Sweden to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Interestingly the massive anti-climax of this journey proves to be of benefit to the movie as a whole.
For throughout the build up to the Olympics both teams are depicted as the top two teams in the world. It is indisputable. No other team seems to exist. However, New Zealand, previously unmentioned win the gold medal. There is no explanation, in fact, no reference to this glaring inconsistency at all.
But it means that MURDERBALL isn’t all about the game, it is about people’s lives.
In and around tournaments Rubin and Shapiro explore the experiences of those taking part. But two stories dominate, that of the Canadian Coach, Joe Soares and the USA hardman, Mark Zupan.
Soares is arguably the greatest quad-rugby player of all time. He is also American. Dropped from the USA team on the eve of the 2000 Olympics, his spittle flinging, eye popping desire for revenge provides a great deal of the movie’s momentum. He perceives team as family but he already has a family, who at times, he appears not to notice.
Zupan, according to a friend, ‘was an asshole before he got in the wheelchair’. He remained so. In possession of a thousand yard stare and a self confidence that causes others to visibly wilt, Zupan’s total self-belief serves him well in his life and chosen sport. Injured by a bizarre accident in which he was flung into a canal from the back of his friend’s pick-up, the relationship between himself and that very friend is a recurrent theme.
But Soares and Zupan are not the only men featured. A particularly interesting and indeed funny strand is the athletes’ shameless exploitation of their disability in order to secure good lovin’. As one of them explains with a smirk, ‘Fuck it man, the more pitiful I am the more they like me’. Although this is the method by which some attract blonde bombshells, it can’t but help that they are Olympic athletes too.
MURDERBALL is a life affirming movie. Without wanting to sound trite it does put in perspective how adaptable people can be and as a consequence how damned unappreciative we are of what life has to offer. The movie ends with Zupan teaching Murderball to a group of American casualties of the Iraq war. They all look about 15. It is a poignant conclusion to a rewarding film.