After all the thrills and drug spills of the main event, when the Golds, Silvers and – in the British case – Bronzes have been obsessively tallied, there’s the Paralympics. Years ago, there was an uncomfortable air of the “able-bodied” congratulating themselves for giving the “handicapped” something to do. Anyone still feel that way? Murderball will learn ya...
First off, a quick tutorial... Played on a basketball court and officially known as the not-so-edgy ‘Quad Rugby’, the sport has two opposing teams of four players, decked out in adapted wheelchairs designed to smash, crash and bash their rider towards a goal of two traffic cones. All competitors are awarded a disability mark (from 0.5 to 3.5 points), depending on the mobility of their condition, with teams not allowed to go above a total of eight points on court at any one time. Within these sparse rules, mayhem reigns.
But the on-court chaos is tame compared with the off-court loathing between bitter Canadian coach Soares and US powerhouse Mark Zupan. Soares was the States’ superstar until, much to his chagrin, he was deemed “past it” by the selectors. Not a man driven by forgiveness or blind loyalty, he skipped the border and took the calls of “traitor” with a tellingly unsteady smirk. With Soares immersed to an almost life-threatening degree and Zupan all too eager to pelt him with expletives, the rivalry is intoxicating and often hilarious.
While the action is always frenzied, Murderball is much, much more than just a sport film. It’s all about the raw humanity of the players; the way their often desperate situations have given them an articulate, no-bullshit frankness you’ll struggle to find in mainstream sport. Whether talking about sex (yes, they can) or explaining how they got to where they are today (Zupan was maimed in a drunken teen car-crash; Bob Lujano suffered a rare form of meningitis as a kid [“No arms, no legs; no problem!”]; Andy Cohn suffered spinal cord injuries as a 16-year-old), they never complain, never seek sympathy and, like directors Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro, never once fall back on cheap sentimentality.
The film is anchored with the story of Keith Cavill. Only recently crippled in a motorcycle accident – and therefore still coping with his loss and lifestyle upheaval – he journeys from unable-to-tie-his-own-shoelaces physiotherapy to a glorious, inspirational meeting with Zupan at a pre-Olympic Murderball presentation. As Cavill wheels around in his new metallic chariot, the emancipation is clear, and – far from wince and applaud and hope the poor boy doesn’t get any more injuries – you’ll want to get in line for London 2012 Murderball tickets.
Hard and fast action, likeable characters and potent tales of suffering and redemption. A gripping and unflinching eye-opener.