My first dictation, and damn, it was a good one. A cheat in some ways, as it was a film I heard about when it had theatrical release, and I was keen to see it then. That said, getting it as a dictator film pushed me into seeing it probably months, if not years, earlier than I wouldíve otherwise. And for that Iím glad, cause this is in a lot of ways an exceptional doc.
I will note that major spoilers will follow. Iím not gonna be coy and dance around things. If you havenít seen it and want to, you may want to not read the following. Of course, I donít know that knowing the outcome of the film would change the impact of the learning that takes place.
The film focuses on several people involved in the elite levels of a sport known as wheelchair rugby, quad rugby, or, by itís initial name, Murderball. This includes Zupan, a current player for the US team, Andy, Scott, and Bob, who also play for the US, Joe, once the worldís best player, and then also Keith, newly quadriplegic, and Chris, who was directly involved in Zupanís injury. It charts the subjects in the lead up to the 2004 Paralympic games, the games, and the immediate aftermath.
The first thing that is of course, hugely obvious, is that this is a fascinating subject for a doc. How many of us go and sit in a hugely customized wheelchair and ram into other people in similar chairs? How many of us even know this goes on? So thereís a lot to be learnt here, and itís stuff thatís interesting, and the subjects are as fascinating as the other elements.
The thing is tho, the filmmakers have managed to take this, and make a strong, well-crafted doc. Itís fantastically constructed, well edited, and provides an insight that is just fascinating.
My first experience with a doc was Bowling For Columbine, and itís sort of made me wary. The first time I saw Columbine I laughed, I was shocked, and then I saw it again and was just horrified at how manipulative it was, and how much Moore plays us for suckers.
This is where Murderball is a far superior film. It is manipulative, of course. In the opening scenes, when Canada beats the USA at the 2002 World Championships, despite only a small amount of time dedicated to the players, we are made to feel upset that the US hasnít won. Itís the same at the end, when the US team doesnít win the gold at the Paralympics.
That said, this isnít unreasonable. Of course we should create an emotional connection to these characters. Itís a sign of good doc making, at least to my mind, that we do manage to make emotional ties to characters.
I think the subjects are perhaps one of the most interesting things present here. Zupan is a really fascinating main subject (although Iím not sure that he is the main subject - more on that later). Early on, he swears. A lot. Heís an angry guy, heís a strong guy, heís a very outspoken personality. Yet, as the film progresses, he matures. The person we see at the 2002 world champs is not the same person that competes at the 2004 Paralympics. He stops swearing in front of camera, he mellows, he is less outspoken, and it makes for a great profile across the film.
Kieth, the young man who has just been injured, also presents a fascinating view. He only becomes directly related to the sport late on, but through him we learn what it means to become a quadriplegic, and how big those changes are. Itís nice to see some hope at the end.
Of all of this, Joe is easily the most fascinating subject on show here. Previously the player in the world, he was passed over for selection in the US, and so went and coached Canada. Right at the beginning we see him lead the Canadian team to victory at the World Champs, the only time the US has only been beaten, at that stage. He says to the US team, who are drinking their sorrows away, ďIíd be happy for you if youíd beaten us by one point.Ē Which is fantastic, because later, in a competition to decide the seedings for Athens, the American team does beat the Canadians by one point, and Joe isnít happy for them.
Still, some of the best stuff with Joe is what we see of his son. Joe is a strong, athletic man. His son is not. He gets very good grades. He plays the viola (thatís right, not even the violin, the viola). He wears glasses. Heís a quiet kid. And itís obvious that Joe doesnít know how to respond to this kid. How to react to him. How to give him what he needs, as such. The scene at the BBQ is so fantastic. Then we watch the son dust his fatherís trophies, of which there are many, and we get the impression that this is a regular thing.
And then Joe has a heart attack. Itís an amazing turning point, and just like Zupan, Joe mellows. When he goes home to his childhood home, we watch him talk to his old neighbours, and he talks of his son, and he does it with pride. Itís really, really great. Joe even makes an effort to get home from the competition in Vancouver to go to a concert, and heís late, but heís there, and this is obviously huge.
To me, Joe is the main subject here. I would say he gets more screen time than anyone else, and his journey is the most fascinating. Itís a joy to watch, and I had such fun with him.
There are, of course, other things going on in here. There is a sense of education. Within the first half hour or so, a group of the US athletes talk about how they live. They speak of the issues they have, the adjustments they have had to make, the reconciliations that have gone on within themselves. They talk candidly of their accidents, their illnesses, their rehabilitations, not leaving the house through fear and shame, public reactions to their disabilities, their annoyances, itís all fantastic. They even talk candidly of sex, and dispel a lot of rumours and miseducations.
This is so fantastic because it is genuine education. These people talk to us in a way that is never condescending and the filmmakers give them the space to do that while making sure that it never overstays itís welcome.
It is also a very well structured film. It almost doesnít work, but it has a short attention span that works in its favour. It stays on subjects just long enough to provide the current insight, then moves to the next. Itís great editing that ensures the success of the disparate elements.
All in all, itís a thoroughly fantastic, incredibly engaging and informative doc. More than worth a look. Many thanks to THATguy for a benevolent dictation.