REVIEW: The Crash Reel

Directed by Lucy Walker
Feature documentary w/Kevin Pearce, David C. Pearce (Kevin’s brother), Simon Pearce, Shaun White, Scotty Lago, Sarah Burke

Reviewed by Marc Glassman

Kevin Pearce was on his way to glory when the big crash occurred. The effervescent American athlete had trained for years to be the greatest snowboarder in the world. Living and working with Olympic gold medalist Shaun White made Kevin up the ante to the extent that Shaun eventually kicked him out—realising that his pal had turned into his biggest rival.

So there he was on a cold December morning: Kevin in full flight in Park City, Utah, surrounded by the rest of buddies—Mason, Scotty and the rest—-when it all went wrong. Less than a month before the Vancouver Olympics, when Kevin could have etched his name in snowboard history, he was suddenly battling for his life. Surrounded by his extraordinary family, including his laid-back artistic dad Simon, incredibly supportive mother and brother David, a Special Olympics athlete, he pulled through.

But what sort of comeback is possible for a would-be Olympian now brought back down to Earth? Lucy Walker’s new documentary The Crash Reel captures the high stakes drama lived by Pearce and his family, before and after the crash. Featuring extraordinary footage of Kevin, Shaun and others performing high stakes acrobatics in wintry conditions, Walker’s film includes highlights that will entrance any viewer.

But she has another perspective—exploring the world of a world-class athlete like Kevin as his God-like status is gradually removed. She follows him as he gets back his mobility and memory to something resembling normal. Her presence—and camera—doesn’t faze Kevin or his family as she records intimate dramas: a mother worried about her son, a phlegmatic father struggling to express his apprehensions as Kevin slowly decides to resume snowboarding and a dramatic confrontation when David tells his brother flat out to never take to the mountains again.

The Crash Reel inevitably suffers from a conflicting agenda. Walker’s film features terrific footage of snowboarders at their best, performing feats that defy gravity and are absolutely poetic to view. But the film is “really” about Kevin and his adjustment to a normal life. Inevitably, Walker has to show the downside of snowboarding and skiing: the death of Sarah Burke and others form an essential part of the narrative. So does the question of concussions, a topic familiar to fans of hockey and North American football. Not highlight reel stuff!

Lucy Walker, the director of Blindsight, Countdown to Zero and Waste Land, is clearly one of the finest young talents working in documentary today. The Crash Reel, despite its conceptual weaknesses, is one of the best docs of the year. It’s well worth seeing.