For their unabashedly entertaining documentary Murderball, filmmakers Dana Adam Shapiro, Henry Alex Rubin, and Jeffery Mandel pick a handful of individuals to represent the world of quadriplegic rugby, originally known as "Murderball." When one newly paralyzed man says, "What was once normal will never be the same," he expresses the average person's understanding of quadriplegia. But Murderball corrects that true but misleading sentiment by depicting men who live harder than most "able-bodied" individuals.
A companion piece to Shapiro's Maxim article, Murderball focuses on the conflict between quad rugby's long-dominant Team USA and the upstart Team Canada. The teams' confrontations at the 2002 World Championship in Sweden and the 2004 Paralymics Games in Athens bookend the film. Among the colorful characters are Joe Soares, an ornery sore loser who coaches Team Canada after being kicked off the American squad; Mark Zupan, the alpha-male spokesman for Team USA; and Keith Cavill, a former athlete whose recent paralysis makes him a prime candidate for quad rugby.
The rock-accented action of colliding wheelchairs is eye-popping stuff, but Murderball is more interested in personal drama than sport. The men discuss their pathways to acceptance and demonstrate their zest for life, tempered only by patience for the ignorant squares of mainstream society. Shapiro and Rubin get plenty of footage of the men at play off the court, shooting the shit and hitting on women; one of the film's emphatic busted stereotypes is that of the sexually-stunted paraplegic.
In scenes that are equal parts comic and tragic, Soares troubleshoots his disappointingly sensitive son; later, Soares meets another life-changing personal setback. These organic developments highlight the manipulations of the other stories, as when the filmmakers arrange a meeting between Zupan and Cavill and a reunion of Zupan with the supposedly estranged friend responsible for Zupan's life-changing accident. Still, Murderball is never less than intriguing, and often adrenalized.