2006-09-19 17:48


This documentary covers the sport of wheelchair rugby (formerly called murderball), and several players on the US Paralympics team, both on and off the field. The sport is played in souped up, armour plated wheelchairs, and has grown in popularity over the last decade, with many countries now having national teams. The film also tracks the effects of spinal injuries on the players, and the massive adjustment needed to fit into the world of the fully abled.


In a just world, Murderball would be a summer blockbuster, as it delivers everything a big budget Hollywood film should, and more. There is action, tragedy, humour, romance, friendship and heartache. But the best thing about the movie is that it's all real.

The filmmakers pull no punches in portraying their subjects as flawed human beings dealing with trial after trial, clawing their way out of the literally crippling prison of debilitating spinal injury. The portraits painted of hothead player Mark Zupan and ex-star Joe Bishop are particularly unflattering.

Zupan is an angry young man, desperately trying to cope with his limited mobility after being crippled in a freak accident when he was flung out of the back of a friend's bakkie. His rabid devotion to the sport and the team illustrate the extent to which, even in the first world, paraplegics are barely considered part of society. Being able to represent his country and excel is a much-needed lifeline for someone who has been robbed of the most basic abilities, and this goes a long way to explaining the fanaticism that the sport has garnered.

Joe Bishop, an over-the-hill ex-champion, is another central figure in the movie. Bishop left the states to coach in Canada when he was excluded from the US team due to his age. The film takes the viewer on an uncomfortable journey through his dysfunctional family life, his heartrending relationship with his son, as well as the driving ambition and stress that leads to his heart attack.

There is much more than this to Murderball. Newcomer directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro do a remarkable job of presenting an even-handed and respectful account of the world of the physically disabled. And it's a damned sight more exciting and emotionally involving than some star studded Hollywood garbage with a billion dollars worth of CGI.

- Ivan Sadler
This alternately moving and disturbing documentary follows the story of a group of paraplegic athletes from the US Paralympics wheelchair rugby team.

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