murderball (2005)

Well, it's looking like this year is shaping up to be a big one for the documentary, who knew?  I guess it should come as no surprise since narrative movies seem to have absolutely nothing to offer as of late, but this alternate form of cinema is making up for it. Murderball follows the story of the paraplegic olympic rugby team. "Murderball" is a game unto itself, I'm still not very sure what the game entails, but it's basically rugby in wheelchairs. If the film had one weakness it would be that it never really stated the rules of the game very clearly except for a brief overview in the beginning. However, if the film has strengths, it's in everything else. The movie is spectacular; balancing personal stories of the players with the visceral thrill of the Murderball matches. 

The movie dissects the sport and its players from all angles and really takes advantage of such fertile ground for storytelling. The US team hasn't gone home without the gold in 10 years and this murderball team is determined not to break the streak. This is a story that is compelling enough to sustain a movie by itself; but the best part about murderball is that each player on the team is in themselves a compelling story of survival. We are shown the deep rivalry between the US and Canadian team which is provoked by the fact that the star player from team USA has left and become the coach of the Canadian team. Were this not a documentary I would have groaned at this Mighty Ducks storyline, but the best aspect of Murderball is that it's all 100% real. In a stroke of genius the movie captures the story from both sides of the rivalry focusing most of the film on Team USA's star player Mark Zupan and on Canada's "traitorous" coach Joe Soares. Inter-cut with the story of the two teams training and participating in small tournaments on their way to the 2004 championship are the backstories of many players on the team and how they came to be paraplegics. From childhood diseases to accidents it's all dramatic and heartbreaking; but it's obvious these guys don't want you to feel sorry for them. Not only are they having a blast playing a sport they love professionally, but they're still more than capable of doing many of the things they used to do before their accidents. a sub-plot is also introduced about a kid named Keith Cavill who just recently had a motorcycle accident and is now paralyzed from the waist down. His struggle illustrates what all of the guys on the team had to go through years prior to the making of the film. This movie is blended perfectly. If the entire film had focused on the sport of murderball and the team's road to the olympics it would have gotten boring; on the other hand a movie all about paraplegics overcoming their disabilities would have also gotten pretty boring. but put them both together and you've got one amazing movie. 

The production of the movie is top notch, especially its editing. the camera-work and cinematography is just how it should be: hard and visceral during the games, small and calm during the stories. Some striking images are in this movie; the standout right now being Keith sitting next to the motorcycle that caused his accident. There's just something about the film that makes it work in every way; it's dramatic, it's comedic, it's got action, you'll laugh, you'll cry. Right now it stands as the best-reviewed movie of the year, and for good reason. Maybe it's a testament to the film's quality, or maybe the quality of the competition, but this is, without a doubt, one of the best movies so far this year. March of the Penguins has caught on and gotten a wide release, I'm hoping Murderball does the same. Perhaps documentaries will start to become a much more prevalent form of movies than in the past. On television, people have traded most of the dramas and sitcoms for the new breed of reality TV, why not do the same with movies? just a thought. if more like this start to be released I don't see why it wouldn't catch on.