Stop complaining. Really. About your job, your family, and the fact that you can't afford to take a vacation to Hawaii this year, even though you're certain that you really, really deserve it. You simply don't know what adversity is. As Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro's documentary Murderball illustrates often with bone-crunching collisions there are people out there who are far worse off than you, and they're having a lot more fun. A film festival sensation, Murderball which took nearly three years to shoot delves into the sport of quadriplegic rugby and the young men who play it. Some crucial details are offered in the opening minutes, among them the rules of quad rugby (a blend of football, basketball, and a good old-fashioned game of smear-the-queer), and the fact that quadriplegics are not totally paralyzed below the neck, but instead simply have limited mobility in all of their limbs, on a ranked scale of 1-8. This ranking determines the overall makeup of a team's side (four players may not exceed eight total points of mobility), while the chairs they use for high-impact battle are specially designed aluminum constructions designed to deliver, and receive, maximum punishment. Quad rugby was developed in Canada more than a decade ago, where it was first known as "murderball." Since then, it's become an international, Olympic-level sport. It's also been completely dominated by the USA. Murderball gets underway with a match between the USA and Canada, competing for the 2003 world championship, and with a twist: One of the USA's best players, Joe Soares, has retired from active play and now, at 43, is coaching the Canadian team. His apparent betrayal of his country doesn't sit well with the current American squad. Foremost among them is Scott Zupan, a Texas jock with tattoos and a long goatee who thrives on competition. But despite the passion of Zupan and his USA teammates, they lose a heartbreaker, setting up a grudge match at the 2004 Olympics.
Murderball offers plenty of game footage, but it would not be nearly as successful without the personalities who inhabit the film. As with the best documentaries, the movie transports viewers into an unusual environment filled with fascinating individuals. Foremost among these are Zupan and Soares, two men who save for their competitive passions could not be more dissimilar. Injured in a car accident, Zupan is laid back and refreshingly open, a happily married professional who loves lifting weights and started a foundation for quadriplegic mentoring. And when taking a dip in a pool, he looks as ordinary as the next person hanging out at the water's edge. Soares, on the other hand, is a strict disciplinarian (a trait he inherited from his Portuguese father) as well as a trophy collector, a man who often loses his cool during games, making him the murderball equivalent of Bobby Knight. The film takes a welcome break in the middle-third to examine the lives of various quad rugby players, in particular the misfortunes that caused their disabilities (ranging from vehicle accidents to fights to a rare blood disease). We also learn that the boys have healthy sex lives and enjoy meeting girls in bars, waiting for "the question" (the answer to which is, yes, they can do that). The fact that they are so completely ordinary with girls and drinking and practical jokes is what makes Murderball subtly disarming, to the point that halfway through the film it's easy to start noticing able-bodied folks in the background, and the fact that they are doing something as commonplace as walking. But the USA-Canada match is always on everyone's minds, and one can only hope that this movie's several accomplishments will someday include what every game needs a television contract because quad rugby is one hell of a spectator sport. ThinkFilm's DVD release of Murderball offers a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) from a digital source, which looks good throughout, while audio is crisp on DD 5.1 and Dolby 2.0 stereo tracks. Supplements include two commentaries, one with the filmmakers and a second with the players, an appearance by the USA players on "Larry King Live" (40 min.), MTV's "Jackass Presents: Murderball" (20 min.), the featurette "Murderball: Behind the Game" (18 min.), an update interview with Joe Soares (10 min.), premiere footage (2 min.), and six deleted scenes. Keep-case.