Director: Lucy Walker
Film Pulse Score: 9/10
Lucy Walker’s The Crash Reel provides an intimate look at the life of Kevin Pearce, a world famous snowboarder whose career was tragically cut short after an accident left him in a coma with a severe brain injury. Told through vérité style footage, interviews, and performance clips, the film focuses on Kevin’s story, but also gives us a glimpse into the very real danger involved in action sports.
While the film does explore the concept of traumatic brain injury, and the effects it has on athletes, it really only discusses it within the context of Kevin’s world. This isn’t a film that bashes you over the head with facts and figures. There’s nothing here to cause outrage and it’s not necessarily a call to action. The Crash Reel is a much more human story that looks at what makes these riders so passionate about what they do, and how these accidents effect families and friends.
Kevin Pearce was an extremely gifted snowboarder who was a strong contender for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Before Pearce ignited onto the scene, no one could come even close to competing with the phenom Shaun White. After Pearce began beating him, the two developed a rivalry that seemed to propel both boarders into performing tricks and routines that no one could begin to top. This upward trajectory of his career made the accident all the more tragic and heart breaking.
The film contains an astounding amount of footage that takes the viewer from before the accident, through his long recovery, to present day. It was almost as if his entire life was being documented and we’re all lucky to be able to see this incredible journey.
It plays out much like a narrative feature, with conflicts, resolutions, and development of character. After two years of rehabilitation, all he can think about it getting back on the board, which causes turmoil between him and his family. After he does finally return to the slopes he finds that he simply cannot perform at the same level, which makes him come to the realization that his dreams are no longer achievable.
It also looks at the profession itself, and explores some of the issues that plague action sports. One aspect that caught me by surprise is that the athletes only are insured for specific sanctioned events, so if someone is injured during a practice for a non-sponsored event, they will have no medical insurance. Though these extreme sports cause just as much injury as competitive team sports, the care given to the players is much less extensive.
The Crash Reel is a lot of things rolled up into one fantastic documentary. It’s sad, yet ultimately inspirational. It features some amazing snowboarding footage, but it also acts as a cautionary tale. It’s a story of support and family and perseverance. Even for those that aren’t interested in snowboarding or sports docs in general, this is still a must-see and one of the best documentaries of the year.