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Heroes of the Zeroes: Murderball

by on July 28, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

Rated R

A sport for which the upright and uninjured would hardly have the stones, “murderball” is rugby for quadriplegics in wheelchairs modified into bash-and-roll chariots. In this pileup of bumper cars and gladiatorial combat, there’s one rule: Kill the man with the ball.

There’s little room for tears in this testosterone territory, so 2005’s “Murderball” spat on that power of the human spirit stuff and rolled along. Instead, documentarians Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro focused not on what spinal injury excluded, but what it enabled.

America dominates the sport (soft-marketed as quad rugby), and Mark Zupan is its profane, impish poster child — whose brash hotheadedness existed before his paralysis and complicates peace with a friend who accidentally caused his condition.

Canada seeks to upset America with the aid of Joe Soares, a bellowing Yankee who defected to coach Team Canada. Soares is so preoccupied with prosperity that he risks losing the love of his academically gifted son. (Although Zupan says he wouldn’t urinate on Soares were he on fire, even Soares isn’t heartlessly unresponsive to a major wake-up call.)

From driving to sex, “Murderball” thoroughly chronicles quadriplegic life, while tracking rock ‘n’ roll rivalries with adrenaline-pumping Ministry music and mosh-pit pacing.

Playing murderball represents the payoff of a multi-year struggle to regain independence — a return to competitive pleasures that elated these men when fully mobile. In quad rugby, participation isn’t victory. Victory is victory, and “Murderball” showcased the players’ expansion of experience, empathy and excellence.