They swear, they're scary-looking and they don't want your pity. Welcome to the world of Murderball, a smashing look at the sport of wheelchair rugby and the men who play it. If you've come for cuddly characters and cheap triumph-over-adversity tear-jerking then you're in the wrong place. But if you're after honest, unpatronising insights and brutal match action then lock down your wheels for one of 2005's very best documentaries.
The film centres on the USA and Canadian Murderball teams, following their fierce rivalry from the 2002 World Championships to the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens. Between these grudge matches we get vivid portraits of the personalities involved, primarily Team USA superstar Mark Zupan and the fearsome Joe Soares, who became Canada's revenge-driven coach after being dumped by the Americans. There's also the affecting figure of Keith Cavill, a newly crippled motocross kid facing the slow road to rehabilitation.
Though there's a genuine moment of uplift when Cavill meets Zupan, things never get weepy or worthy. A bracing antidote to countless condescending movies about disability, Murderball celebrates its heroes without sanctifying them. It's pricelessly funny in places, not least during the eye-opening discussion of quadriplegic sex. And you've got to be made of stone not to flinch during the on-court carnage, as these gladiators in their armoured chariots cannon into each other at high speed. That said, the scoreboard suspense is ultimately cake-icing; it's the way the film treats its subjects as people rather than victims that really deserves applause.