Ebert (July 22, 2005) writes in his review of "Murderball" that Zupan's answer is "...hard to believe, but from him, I believe it." The team Zupan plays for us Team USA; the biggest rival for Team USA is Team Canada. And this rivalry becomes a central theme in the film. These players on the two teams definitely don't like each other at all. And Joe Soares, who was a great player for Team USA for many years, was let go because of his age and his declining skills. The film interviews Soares at length and viewers are given a close look at an angry man whose pride has been severely injured. But Soares - like all the competitors that are featured in the documentary - does not give up easily, and never quits. This is another story within the story, and Soares moves to Canada to become the head coach of Team Canada. He gets his revenge on Team USA for cutting him by leading Team Canada to a victory over Team USA. That win was the first time Team Canada had defeated Team USA in 12 years, so it was sweet for Soares and bitter for the Americans.
Meantime, the New York Times (McGrath, 2005) critics give details of how the game of wheelchair rugby is played. The paraplegics wear gloves (some wear garden gloves) with pine tar on the gloves to help them grasp the rugby ball; their wheelchairs are armored, McGrath writes, like "hybrids of the dodge-'em car and the Roman battle chariot." The film shows the wheelchairs "crashing into one another and toppling over," the Times' critic continues. "There is a Monty Python aspect to all this," McGrath continues. He amends that remark a bit; "...or there would be if the players did not also perform remarkable feats of wheeling and spinning, executing feints and lobbing courtwide passes to one another."
One should not go into this documentary thinking it is a nice friendly film about "wheelchair basketball." Quite the contrary, these players are out for blood; they hit each other's wheelchairs as hard as they can. Indeed, part of the game is to knock the opponent's chair onto the floor. The referees graciously pick the chairs up when they are knocked over. One of the directors, Henry Alex Rubin, was interviewed by the Times; he said "We're not sports guys, and we didn't want to make a sports film." Instead, what Rubin and Shapiro wanted to do was "make a movie about guys who had broken their necks."
And there is plenty in the film about men who suffered serious, very serious, injuries, and somehow came back to compete in the wheelchairs. These players are fairly typical jocks, notwithstanding their unique disabilities. They "guzzle beer," Rubin explains. They love "dumb practical jokes," McGrath continues. "They enjoy sex with groupies," the Times' reporter explains, "of whom there are a surprising number." Speaking of sex, Roger Ebert writes that since the players are very frank when talking about their lives, "we learn everything we always wanted to know about quadriplegic sex but were afraid to ask."
One player interviewed in the documentary claims the chair works like a "babe magnet." Women, he said, "...Are dying to ask him if he can perform sexually." Viewers learn that indeed most of these men can perform, and just so the audience has no lingering doubts about how that is done, the directors cut away to an instructional video called "Sexuality Reborn," a video that is shown to paraplegics who are in rehabilitation.
In a review by Matthew Turner (ViewLondon.co.uk) the writer explains that "Murderball isn't afraid to depict its characters in a less than flattering light, so we really get a good feel for what each of the individuals are like." That is well stated, and even understated. Viewers may learn more about some of the characters than they really want to know or need to know. But when I watched it, even though some of the material was a bit unsavory, testosterone-saturated and violence-intense, I couldn't take my eyes off it.
Ebert, Roger. "Murderball: Mobile jocks smash cliches." Retrieved April 28, 2008, at http://rogerebert.suntimes.com.
McGrath, Charles. "A Film's Stars Are Tough Athletes. They Are Also Paraplegics." The New
York Times. Retrieved April 28, 2008, at http://www.nytimes.com.
Turner, Matthew. "Murderball." View London. Retrieved April 28, 2008, at http://www.viewlondon.co.uk/films/murderball-film-review-13656.htm.