“Quadriplegics, who play full-contact rugby in wheelchairs, overcome unimaginable obstacles to compete in the Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.”

Director: Dana Adam Shapiro, Henry Alex Rubin,
Writers: Dana Adam Shapiro
Rated: R
Release Date: August 5, 2005

Murderball (2005) is so mid 2000s it hurts. But it hurts in the best way possible. Murderball has the old school, grudge look that immediately triggers memories of early MTV. The documentary itself is made in its time, and that style choice made by directors Dana Adam Shapiro and Henry Alex Rubin has made Murderball a timeless documentary.

So what the fuck is Murderball? That is a fair question. I had the same one. I stumbled across this movie under Peacock’s “Nominated” scroll, and it turns out this documentary was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2006 Academy Awards. The movie follows quadriplegics who play for Team USA’s full contact rugby team. The cameras trace how these men live their lives with their respective physical conditions and what it means for each of them to find solace in beating the shit out of people in a knockdown sport. Team USA is the main focus, but the most fascinating person is actually the head coach of team Canada, Joe Soares.

Soares was a legendary wheelchair rugby for team USA. He won numerous gold medals with the United States team and was the only player to have participated in 13 consecutive United States National Championships. In 1996 he was part of the Summer Paralympics, but later that year he was cut from the team. Soares, to put it plainly, did not take it well. He immediately jumps north and begins coaching Team Canada. This has to be like if Bill Russell played on the Celtics but then was cut and went onto to go coach the Los Angeles Lakers. There was a LOT of animosity from Soares, and he was not afraid to show it in Murderball.

Soares is a crazy person. You have to be a special breed to be playing Murderball, but to live it like Soares does in this movie is detrimental to one’s mental and physical health. The documentary traces Soares in all his fury and paints his personality not only on the canvas of a wheelball rugby court, but also his family. This is a fantastic decision by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro. Soares relationship with his son is fascinating. The first time we talk with the young boy he is complaining about having to dust his father’s trophies. That immediately sets the tone, doesn’t it? Come the end of the movie, Soares is sharing his trophy space with his son. Events transpire that soften Soares a smidge, but not enough to take away his edge. Soares is the most compelling character in Murderball, both in and away from competition.

There are numerous individuals profiled from Team USA, and the round robin approach to understanding the team allows for more exploratory topics. Have you ever wondered if a quadriplegic can still have sex? Murderball answers this question. Can quadriplegics find loving relationships and happiness in life when they have been dealt a tough card? Murderball makes sure everyone knows such things are beautifully accomplishable. While Joe Soares’s story is a lot about the game itself and his own personal competition, team USA’s story takes a more personable, human approach. We see these athletes speaking to and inspiring recently injured individuals. One of the best vignettes within Murderball is of a young man learning to be a quadriplegic and finding a new passion in wheelchair rugby.

Do you know the projects you did in elementary school when you put a bunch of things in a box and bury it to then reopen it when you are in high school? Murderball is one of those things tossed into the box, and opening it now is a fantastic reward of patience. The story is sad, inspiring, real and compelling. The filmmakers don’t treat anything or anyone with kids gloves, and I have to think that the participants in this movie appreciate not being talked too but rather being talked about. Whether or not it is true, Murderball comes off as a very real look at a sport and world nobody knows enough about.

Murderball was nominated for Best Documentary at the 2006 Oscars. It was going up against Darwin’s Nightmare (2005), Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room (2005), Street Fight (2005) and the eventual winner, March Of The Penguins (2005). Talk about two very different vibes of documentaries!

Check out Murderball on Peacock.

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