Friday, March 10, 2006

MURDERBALL

Starring Mark Zupan
Reviewed by Byron Merritt

BIG THUMBS UP!

BIG THUMBS UP DOCUMENTARY RATING!


MURDERBALL, simply put, is a bunch of quadriplegics in wheelchairs playing full-contact Rugby on a sort of basketball court. But the movie is much more than that simplistic notion.


MURDERBALL the movie is a voyage of discovery, telling its characters (the men in these wheelchairs) that life isn’t over after a debilitating accident. And telling us, those who are fortunate enough not to be stuck in these chairs, that they’ve earned our respect, not our sympathies.


This amazingly little known Paralympic sport is taken very seriously by the U.S. team, who’ve taken home the gold the past 11 times. Their specialized chairs are turned into battering rams for plowing into their fellow players (the speed at which they can travel are impressive and the impacts at the end ear-throttling).

Mark Zupan is one of this documentary’s focuses, a quadriplegic with serious attitude, huge biceps, a scowling face, dark tattoos, and, underneath it all, a heart of gold. Having been paralyzed after an accident caused by his best friend from high school, Christopher Igoe, the two have not spoken in years ...out of guilt, fear, and anger. But as the film winds down we see a softening in attitude on Mark Zupan’s part and the two come together in a offish but very touching way.

The other main focus of the documentary is on Joe Soares, a bitter man who lost his position on team America and now spins his Rugby wheels for the Canadian team ...as their coach. Sparks fly as the two teams meet up for the first time since Joe Soares took over the Canadian team. Joe is also so caught up in what he’s doing that he forgets to remember the most important things in his life: his wife and son. At first, I absolutely hated Joe. But as the film rolled on, and some changes in Joe’s life were forced upon him, I began to understand his position. The viewer also gets to see Joe grow out of his self-centeredness and into a more loving father and husband.

The final focus is on a young man named Kevin, who was newly acquainted with a wheelchair after becoming a quadriplegic from a motorcycle accident. He’s bitter, angry, depressed, all the things you’d expect after suffering such a horrific life-change. But Mark Zupan introduces him to wheelchair Rugby (Murderball) and Kevin is instantly hooked. Life takes on new meaning for Kevin and he obviously decides that his existence still has value. A great set of scenes!

I’ll end this review by mentioning the special features that came with the DVD. Johnnie Knoxville and "Steve-O" from Jackass the TV series, party with several of the members of the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby team and it’s a great thing to behold. Not only does it show how amiable these wheelchair-bound guys are, but it also shows us how their chairs don’t hold them back in the slightest (punching each other, using cattle prods, and jumping off ramps in their chairs and into swimming pools).

(Murderball was nominated for an Oscar in the Best Documentary category)

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