The very idea of "quadriplegic wheelchair rugby" may initially sound like some sort of sick joke, but this documentary shows it's nothing to scoff at. Rivaling (and besting) most fictional "inspirational" sports films, MURDERBALL follows Team USA as they prepare for a face-off with their bitter rivals, Team Canada, at the 2004 Paralympics in Greece. Part of what makes this rivalry so intense is that Team Canada's coach, Joe Soares (crippled by polio in childhood), is actually a former USA member who defected after he was kicked off the team.

The rugby matches never seem merely novel; on the contrary, they're absolutely thrilling and involving, and I don't think they would have had that strong of an effect if the directors hadn't devoted so much time between the matches to honest, unsentimental profiles of the rugby players. The obvious "star" is Mark Zupan, a charismatic yet steely Team USA player who was paralyzed in a drunk driving incident when he was 18, but everyone we meet is presented as a matter-of-fact individual, not a charity case to pity. Of course, this approach risks sanctimony (and on occasion, the musical score flirts with it), but MURDERBALL mostly avoids that trap--it not only gives its subjects a voice but also enlightens us without inducing guilt or shame. This is an entertaining, educational, exciting, funny, harrowing, sobering film, up there with DOUBLE DARE for best doc of the year.