Friday, March 03, 2006

MURDERBALL - impressive people; unimpressive film-making

MURDERBALL is a documentary focusing on the US and Canadian wheelchair Rugby teams in the run up to the Athens Paralympic games. It is an examination of life as a quadriplegic and the misconceptions the able bodied have about such people. By focusing on Olympic level sportsmen, the documentary makers show us that quadriplegics are just as, if not more, competitive and successful in their chosen field as the able-bodied. As one athlete says on the eve of the paralympics, "we didn't come here for a hug, we came for the gold medal".

MURDERBALL has attracted a lot of critical acclaim, a large part of which, I believe, is unjustified. The people featured in the documentary are no doubt impressive, but once I had heard the back-story of the players and seem them in action once, I lost interest. Worse still, I felt that the documentary-makers created a false villain in Joe Suares - the ex-US player who defected to become the Canadian coach. Cue lots of absurdly melodramatically edited shots of young players saying to Joe, "how does it feel to betray your country". Moreover, Joe is portrayed as an evil man because he is occasionally short-tempered with his kid. And then, post heart-attack, Joe supposedly is frightened into becoming the perfect parent. I am sure that neither extreme is true. Similarly manipulative is the fact that the documentary makers' goaded Chris Igoe to appear in the film. Chris Igoe was responsible for the drunk-driving incident that put Mark Zupan - the poster-boy of US wheelchair rugby - in a chair in the first place.

I think that when documentaries work it is because they throw us into an aspect of life of which we know relatively little, and carry us away with the story. That is exactly what happened in the wonderful documentary MAD HOT BALLROOM. MURDERBALL struggles to come up with the same intensity and sense of building to a finale - the US/Canada match in the Olympics. Perhaps it is because the DP cannot shoot sports matches for shit - it is a particualr and under-rated skill. Perhaps it is because the film-makers caricatured their participants through editing. Whatever the reason, MURDERBALL held my interest for about 30 minutes and then left me cold. And while it probably is the better of the Oscar nominees, that is not saying much. Both GRIZZLY MAN, and MAD HOT BALLROOM are not on that list, but are far more satisfying on a cinematic and emotional basis.

MURDERBALL premiered at Sundance 2005 where it won the Audience Documentary Award and a Special Jury Prize for the editing. It went on limited cinematic release in the US in summer 2005 and in the UK in November. It is now available on DVD and has been nominated for the Best Doc Oscar.


  1. I assume this refers to SYRIANA?!

  2. So which of them is Damon and which is Affleck? I can never tell them apart.

  3. That's easy. Damon's the one who still has a career in Hollywood.

  4. yeah, I put it on the wrong post ;)

  5. Nik: Well, I forgive you. You were sick. Get well soon, by the way. I forgot to include that crucial part in between the anti-socialist ranting :-)

    Anon: Affleck has a career left in Hollywood. On the billboard above Sunset advertising deodorant!