DVD Review: Murderball

It's understandable to go into Murderball expecting a depressing, dark look at an ugly side of life. It's not, and in all actuality, it's a remarkable look at some incredible people who just love to ram their chairs into others on a basketball court. Murderball documents the journey of the US Olympic Wheelchair Rugby team, and does so without the expected angle of feeling sorry for them.

While there is obviously a lot here about the sport, it's really about the people involved. They'll explain how they ended up in a wheelchair and also why they play the game they do. It's engrossing as a documentary, especially as Joe Soares makes his presence felt. This harsh coach was one of the best players in the sport until he was cut from the US team. Now he's coaching the Canadians (and seemingly for revenge), and the conflict between the teams is central to the film.

It provides a nice backdrop to the rest, chronicling their training and personal lives. It's weird to think that while watching this, you never notice they're in chairs (unless they're on the court). It does a fascinating job of presenting this group of guys as normal athletes, not some strange outsiders whose lives are ruined. It breaks the stereotype of making films like this, and it certainly makes strides towards breaking those set by society. You could also say it shows members of the team as arrogant, cocky, and vulgar people. That's also right, but adds to the sense of normalcy, even if that sounds wrong.

If there's anything missing from the film, it's the sport itself. Yes, there are plenty of sequences that show the players smashing into each other without care, but it doesn't explain where the concept started, how it became an Olympic sport, or deeply explain the rules. It's obvious this is a film directly focused on the people playing, not the game itself. Still, a small section offering a few more technical details wouldn't have hurt.

Aside from that, there are few questions left when the film is over. This is a fascinating, raw documentary about a sport most of us have never heard of, and sadly, likely never would if it wasn't for this film. These players demand respect, and they deserve every bit of it. Murderball ensures that shows through. (**** out of *****)

As a documentary, video quality is obviously not a key concern. Grain is prevalent, there's a low quality to the overall picture, and it's faded. This is not a major production, and its not expected to have that extra gloss. (**)

The same can be said for the audio. The excellently chosen soundtrack is the only reason this is in 5.1, and dialogue strains when it hits a high pitch. Again, it's not particularly important to the film and it's as expected. (**)

Extras on the other hand are special. Two commentaries, one from three players and the other from the filmmakers, offering two wildly varying viewpoints are offered. The players offer an obviously unique perspective, though are quiet in spots. They love the film and have no qualms about letting that show.

Oddly, one of the more interesting pieces is MTV's Jackass Presents: Murderball. Aside from the usual stupidity of the show (the black eye game for example), this is poignant and a necessary accompaniment to the film. The players who chose to participate really open up about their conditions, including Mark Zupan who states being in the chair was the best thing that ever happened to him, and if he had a choice, he would likely stay in it. It's 20-minutes, and don't think you've seen the whole film until this is done.

Murderball: Behind the Game is a piece where the people involved can discuss at length some segments that were cut short to keep the film moving. It's padded too much with film footage, especially at 18 minutes. However, the discussion of how the film changed their lives, the impact on the game, and various other tidbits are wonderful.

What has to be a first for a DVD documentary, Joe Soares Update Interview is a 10-minute piece on the hard Canadian coach as he responds to common questions and controversy he caused by his actions in the film. To say it's interesting, unique, and engrossing is an understatement. He actually makes the admission he made mistakes and apologizes for them, and we also learn the Canadian team made the decision to let him go. A short two-minute piece looks at a special moment at the New York City premiere of the film.

A half hour Larry King show is an interview with members of the team that continues to provide deeper insight. Callers ask questions that have been addressed in other features, but it's still well worth watching until the end. Six deleted scenes finish things off and seem to be wise cuts. It's a shame there's no explanation for their deletion though. (*****)

Murderball sadly did low numbers in theaters. That's likely due to the small number of theaters that showed it. It deserves a second chance, and that's DVD. Whether you didn't have the chance or didn't want to see it, this is the call to do so immediately.

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