MRR Review: "The Crash Reel"

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Fifteen years of verite footage show the epic rivalry between half-pipe legends Shaun White and Kevin Pearce.

MRR Review: "The Crash Reel"

Rating: Not rated
Length: 108 minutes
Release Date: December 13, 2013
Directed by: Lucy Walker
Genre: Documentary/Biography/Sport

Extreme sports are one of those love-it-or-hate-it things for most people. Some people just can't comprehend how watching a teenager risk his life on a motorbike, skateboard, or snowboard is in any way entertaining, while others ride the edge of their seats with each monumental trick and occasional catastrophic failure. While these failures may end up as fodder for online video collections, it is important to remember spectacular crashes always involve consequences, and these consequences lie at the heart of Lucy Walker's documentary "The Crash Reel."

Walkeruses years of footage to tell the tale of Kevin Pearce, extreme snowboarder, and his rivalry with fellow athlete Shaun White. The two were luminaries of the sport in the late 2000s, and the competition between the two stars became legendary. It was during the height of this rivalry that Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic crash while training in Utah in 2009. Attempting a particularly difficult move called a cab double cork, he missed his landing and crashed into the wall of snow face first with terrifying force. By the time paramedics reached him, he had already slipped into a coma, and only quick intervention saved his life. The traumatic brain injury Kevin suffered left his family wondering whether he would recover and just how much of his life he would be able to reclaim.

The near-fatal crash in 2009 serves as the breakpoint for both Kevin's life and the film's story. Before the accident, he enjoys the fame and attention lavished upon his fellow extreme athletes, and the copious amount of archival footage available shows a young, skilled star who truly enjoys his chosen sport. Home movies give audiences a glimpse behind the scenes, showing that it's not all fun and games; young athletes sacrifice a lot to excel at these dangerous events.

Post-accident, Kevin's life becomes one of slow, painful recovery. "The Crash Reel" pulls no punches in showing just how close he came to death, and the monumental effect the crash had on his friends and family. After a month in intensive care, it becomes obvious Kevin may never return to his beloved snow slopes without seriously risking his health, and that another injury could easily kill him. His difficulty coming to terms with the fact his career may be over before it truly began has an effect on his life that threatens not only his livelihood but also his relationships.

As a story, "The Crash Reel" sadly tells a tale that isn't unique. Every year, extreme athletes injure and even kill themselves in the pursuit of glory or thrills, and fellow athletes seem to respond to these accidents not with caution but by amping up the thrill levels even higher. The film touches on the story of Sarah Burke, who suffered a similar crash on skis and wasn't lucky enough to survive. What is unique here is how director Walker is able to give audiences the complete picture, showing the forces that drove Kevin to push himself, his excitement at representing his country in the Olympics, and the aftermath and long rehabilitation that most viewers never get to experience. The unwritten message is that this is just one story from a sport where so many other young people are risking their lives with no thought of the potential consequences.

A particularly poignant thread in the film is Kevin's relationship with his brother David, who was born with Down syndrome and clearly adores his older brother. During Kevin's rise, he's a staunch supporter. Immediately after the accident, his exposed anguish about Kevin's chances of recovery spell out the fears no one else in the family is willing to articulate. The film also goes into depth with Kevin's parents, showing their struggles during their own early years, the feelings of success and joy as Kevin became a star, and the tragic turn it all took one afternoon on the slopes.

Ultimately, "The Crash Reel" feels a little disjointed, with the early part of the film glorifying Kevin's rise and his talent as he pushed the envelope, and the latter part of the film serving as a dire warning to those who might follow his example. However, this dichotomy lies at the heart of all extreme athletes, who all know that one day a small miscalculation might spell an early retirement or worse. Parents with children whose interests run toward these dangerous sports would do well to show them films like this, so they can see how giving up a dream voluntarily is hard enough, but to have it taken away in an instant can be soul crushing.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5