Friday, May 05, 2006



Dirs: Henry Alex Rubin (Who is Henry Jaglom?) & Dana Adam Shapiro

Oscar nominated documentary about the Para-Olympic level quadriplegic wheelchair rubgy rivarly between the United States and Canada. The fact that the participants aren't definitionally quadriplegics, or that they are total jerks, does not diminish from what was a pretty interesting film.

Essentially, the film explores the question of what happens when jocks lose the use of their legs. The two main characters, Joe Soares and Mark Zupan, are competitors in this sport that is a cross between football and BattleBots. The retrofitted wheelchairs serve as bumper cars, with ramming and tipping the man with the ball the equivalent of tackling. Soares was once the top American competitor, but became the coach of the Canadian team after being cut due to age. Zupan is an X-games inspired star for the younger American squad.

And both are the kind of guys who beat up nerds in high school. Soares bemoans his son's straight A's and indifference to sports. Zupan lost his mobility after passing out in the back of his buddy's pick-up truck that was crashed coming home from a drunken high school party. Zupan is even a bully to the other members of his team. Normally, these folks would be completely unintersting fodder for a film.

But their response to their disabilities is a different matter. Whatever chip on their shoulder leads them to treat other poorly gives them an aggressive spirit that allows for a peculiar adaptation to their injuries. They are the captains of the football team, with the same swagger and brashness and faults. That quality makes them incredible atheletes. Soares in particular is intriguing as he comes to grips with the impact his hyper competiveness has on his family following a heart attack. Zupan has a journey to make as well, but like many elements in the movie that story seems over scripted to me at times.

The movie challenges assumptions about disability, as you would expect it to. The side characters are universally compelling, either other members of the team or the recently paralyzed motocross enthusiast for whom losing his legs is a harder blow than it might be for someone sedintary like myself. I never found the film too voyeuristic, with enough examination of the day-to-day struggles of the characters to be interesting without taking pity on the subjects.

As with every sports documentary I have ever seen, there isn't enough about the sport itself. A montage (montage) serves to give us a taste of a sport that I would certainly pay some money to see in person.

The film certaintly made me think. These personalities are exactly the ones who might suffer most from paralysis. One event in youth, or some random childhood disease, has closed off avenues for their aggression and competitiveness. Murderball (as the sport was once called) is a solution to that problem, allowing these men the perfect context for a return to normalcy. The film is worth your time.