Directed by: Henry Alex Rubin, Dana Adam Shapiro
Released: September 15, 2005
Grade: A-

Only a dozen or so documentaries are released in Australian cinemas each year.  This comes as no surprise considering they usually struggle at the box-office and have trouble finding an audience.  Those that are selected for release here usually come with a flood of positive reviews and a few awards already under their belt.  Since huge marketing budgets can’t be afforded, good word of mouth is the best thing a releasing studio can hope for.

Murderball fits this methodology perfectly.  It won the audience award for best documentary at the lucrative Sundance Film Festival back in January 2005.  It was shown at several film festivals across Australia (including our own here in Brisbane) where the response from both the public and the critics was also very strong.  All evidence suggests it is a very good film and now having seen it, I couldn’t agree more.

The film follows the path of the American wheel-chair rugby team and their quest to earn the gold medal at the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.  The sport was once known as “murderball” but it made the sport hard to market and hence the more friendly title.  The U.S. team had won every wheel-chair rugby competition until the 2002 World Championships where they were upset by Canada.  This created a fierce rivalry which grew fiercer as the 2004 Games approached...

Despite the title, the film’s focus isn’t on the sport of wheel-chair rugby.  It’s about paraplegics who have overcome much adversity.  The filmmakers have selected six members from the U.S. team and profile their stories.  We see how they came to be disabled, the horrors they went through with their recovery and their realisation that they could still live an equally fulfilling life.

It’s a difficult subject to approach but it’s done in a straight-forward, informative manner.  I learned much about paraplegics which I didn’t otherwise know.  There’s a particularly funny story involving a patient, a nurse and a sponge-bath.  The humour is balanced with scenes of emotion and confrontation.  I sensed that the film itself played a small part in each athlete’s own mental rehabilitation.

At a nicely packaged 85 minutes, Murderball is an interesting film which finishes with an ironic twist.