Looking beyond Invictus: The best films about rugby
Of all the sports that cinema cherishes, rugby is not one of them. The simple spectacle of a boxing match or a formula one race wins out over rugby’s complicated, rucking, mauling and 22 drop-outs. Much like football, there’s just too much to cover, too many technical rules, precise moves and a physical length of time which is tricky to condense.
Lovers of the sport have little cinematic outings to enjoy, with 2009’s Invictus being the sole mainstream, high-budget release of the tiny sub-genre of sports films. Though with the rugby world cup commencing this week, if you’re craving a fantastical depiction of the second most beautiful game, here is a concise list of some of the best and most interesting.
“Beyond the cheer of the crowd, lies the cry of the soul”
This should tell you all you need to know about Forever Strong. The American high-school rugby film, riddled with every sporting movie cliché from A-Zee, following Rick Penning and his time with the juvenile delinquent rugby team, the ‘Highlanders’.
Sean Faris plays the lead disgruntled adolescent, from Never Back Down fame, a similarly faux-inspirational sports film which is none-the-less fantastic entertainment. This is a classic, melodramatic sports movie with all the hallmarks of a fraternity favourite.
The Ground We Won
Cinéma vérité and rugby are usually two things reserved for two very different sentences. Brought together, and they can produce a work of brilliance. The ground we won follows a group of Kiwi farmers and part-time rugby players who are working to overturn a long run of losses.
Pictured in grizzley black and white, the game of rugby seems to be one ingrained in the mud beneath their feet, a hereditary obsession and way of life. It’s possibly the closest you could get to the comradery of the sport and grit of the sport, without playing the game itself.
With perhaps not quite as much grace as the regular sport itself, Murderball, or wheelchair rugby is a brutal game, replacing the soft-landing of mud with metal and hard floor.
The documentary itself follows the strong rivalry between the American and Canadian national teams ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympics. Academy award nominated and well-endorsed by the late Roger Ebert, Murderball is a rare example of a truly inspirational sports film, following unlikely athletes battling adversity with iron physicality.
The partnership of Bollywood and sport is one that is criminally under-utilised. With all the glamour and melodrama of Hindi cinema, suddenly rugby is transformed from a brutal physical sport to a colourful slapstick performance. It’s far from reality, but as is much of sports cinema. If you’re going to break the wall of immersion, you may as well fly-kick through it.
Made famous through the completely outrageous final showdown between the ‘good team’ and the team of violent thugs, it’s a game of rugby like no other, where fans and critics alike can bask in its greatness. So absurd in fact that the antagonist wears a bullring during the climactic match.