Documentaries are always tough to judge. You must first care about the subject matter — or at least allow yourself to get drawn in if it’s about something that you’ve never paid attention to in the past. The film must then be both informative, as well as compelling. Doing all this, and making it feature length is tough. Sure, a nice 20/20 piece or 60 Minutes segment on wheelchair rugby could be concise and action-packed, but 85 minutes of anything this specific is gambling that your audience will care enough to, well, care. On that front, the filmmakers both succeeded and failed.
At the heart of the film, one could sense the good old “triumph over adversity” theme. The problem with this group of athletes is that they don’t want that to be their story. They’re playing a sport in which the main goal is to knock the crap out of the guy with the ball. So in order to combat the obvious veering away of the feel-good, Rudy-type story, the filmmakers choose to concentrate on some tangential topics, including the nature of the players’ injuries and coping with life in a wheelchair, a rival coach who was once the U.S.’ greatest player, and the healing of an old relationship with one of the players and his best friend. Any of these would have been compelling stories in themselves (in short, vignette form), but like a lot of very specific documentary features, felt a little forced at times in this one. The sport itself often took a back seat, as they veered into these other stories. In fact there’s really very little footage of the game at all, and that action they do show is actually rather tame.
I tuned in expecting to see modern day gladiators in custom-built chariots, and instead a handball game broke out. That was one of the more disappointing things about the movie. I’m not sure if that was a result of the game being oversold to the documentarians, poor shooting from the crew, or the fact that maybe they came in with one idea, and instead found out the human interest angle was more interesting than the contest itself. Whatever the case, I would have liked to have seen some more ass-kicking and competition. After all, that’s why a lot of these guys signed up to be in this thing to begin with.