I would venture to say you probably haven't heard of the new documentary "Murderball". This is a shame, because the film is really good. Hopefully, after you read this review, I will have convinced you to see the film and help support it.
Some of the best documentaries I have seen accomplish a number of things. They tell a compelling story, about a number of interesting people, depicting an intriguing conflict, in a clear and concise way. Yep, "Murderball" does all that.
"Murderball" tells the story of the United States Paralympics Rugby team as they work towards the 2004 Paralympics Games in Athens. The USA team has won 11 of the last 11 international championships making them reviled and a target for all of the other countries. Everyone wants to knock the USA team off the top. The film concentrates on a small number of participants; Zupan, the tattooed, goateed mid-twenty something star of Team USA, Joe Soares, a former member of Team USA, who, because he is a little older and slower, was cut from Team USA and now coaches Team Canada, and Keith, a young man who had his accident very recently and is just beginning the rehabilitation process. The rivalry between Soares and Team USA is the central conflict in the story. Soares is determined to yank victory, and the title, away from his former team, and Zupan is just as determined to make sure this doesn't happen.
The film quickly introduces each of the core members of Team USA and Soares. We get a glimpse of who they are, why they are and what they are. As we get to know them as individuals, we also get a quick lesson is what being a quadriplegic means, how the injuries can happen, how each of their injuries occurred and what their life has been like since the accident. It is a lot of information to assimilate, but the filmmakers use a combination of interviews with the subjects, their families and friends, and unique graphics to get all of the details across. All of the information is presented quickly and efficiently. After we have an understanding of the people, we get a crash course in the rules for the rugby games. Again, very useful to the viewer.
As "Ball" progresses, the focus shifts from the games to concentrate on the characters. We learn about Zupan's accident and his strained relationship with his best friend. We witness Soares' near addiction to the game and how this affects his relationship with his wife and son, a straight A, non-athletic student. We also get a glimpse of the rehab process through Keith. Keith is used as a vehicle to give the viewer a more thorough understanding of what it means to be a quadriplegic. We meet him early in the process of his rehab, everything is new and fresh to him, and us. As he learns about how to deal with his new life; how to undo the Velcro on his shoes, how to get into bed, how to have sex with his girlfriend, we learn along with him. This is a surprisingly effective method of humanizing not only his character, but the entire film.
As the film progresses, the focus stays on the characters as they compete against one another. The games are not followed in great detail, merely synopsized to show us the outcome. The games are a framework, a reason to meet these compelling characters. The competitions are a goal for the individuals, adding another dimension to their lives.
It is also refreshing to watch a film about people playing a sport that takes the time and effort to do more than just talk about the sport. Also, the ending is surprising, not what anyone in the film was hoping for, so that adds another element of surprise.
"Murderball" is a compelling, fast moving, interesting and informative documentary. It is everything a documentary should be. Go and see it. Go on. Go!