The Crash Reel
Directed by Lucy Walker
The Crash Reel tells the story of a sport and the risks that athletes face in reaching the pinnacle of their profession. This is Kevin Pearce’s story, a celebrated snowboarder who sustained a brain injury in a trick gone wrong and who now aims, against all the odds, to get back on the snow.
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★★★★ review by Steven Sheehan on Letterboxd
You know when a documentary focusing on a subject you have no interest or knowledge about keeps your attention that it has done its job very well. The Crash Reel provides handfuls of food for thought managing to give you an insight into the psyche of the people who test the fragility of life in pursuit of the love for their sport.
Kevin Pearce was one of the two best snowboarders in the world, competing at the very top of the game, locked in constant battle with his rival Shaun White. With the 2010 Winter Olympics looming - Kevin being one of the favourites for the Gold - training was going as planned in Utah. All it took was one slight adjustment, one clip of the board, to send Kevin down off the half pipe unable to break his fall. No arms to protect his face or his neck. Face first into the snow and the start of a whole new life.
As much as this is a documentary about the human spirit and the love of a very genuinely caring supportive family, it is also fascinating look at the fragility of the brain. Something we all take for granted. Something the daredevils who snowboard or motorcross push to the back of the minds, even after multiple broken bones.
It was a painfully slow process for Kevin to regain any former semblance of himself, coming out of his coma unable to move or communicate. From flying up to 40ft in the air, spinning 1080 back onto his feet to struggling to grab onto his mothers hand by his bedside. Two years after the accident and he still suffers from mood swings, memory loss and spasms in his arms, his brain permanently scarred unable to fully recover.
But he's alive and living well. Living, breathing. Eating and waking up each day. Thanks in the main to a family who gave and continue to offer unconditional love and advice to guide him back to a new path in his life. His older brother Adam quit his job to be there everyday for Kevin whilst he was in hospital working on his balance and co-ordination. The close knit family wasn't the same without Kevin and they couldn't of given anymore to bring him back to life.
The love for snowboarding won't die that easily either. Two years on and he is aching to get back on a board to get the feeling back that had driven him, literally, to such heights. His family are distraught. The doctors cannot emphasise enough the dangers he faces if he shocks his brain in any way. But will Kevin listen to his heart of the worries of those around him?
We get a good sense of Kevin the champion before the incident and of course following him on his road to recovery. His friends played a big part in his life and we see him training, celebrating and enjoy life with them on the way up to the summit of the sport. You can see the difference between the two Kevins quite easily.
There are some quite unflinching moments at the heart of the family, painfully discussing their concerns with Kevin and you sense the toll it has taken on all of them. You have to really appreciate the openness they allowed to be shown on screen, moments of intimacy that really do touch a nerve.
The focus enlarges onto other snowboarders and skiers who have suffered TBI's (traumatic brain injuries), Kevin meeting one or two still in denial or unable to remember himself being in a similar condition. Trevor Rhuda being one, having somehow suffered two such trauma's. It provides Kevin with inspiration that he can affect other peoples lives, help them change their attitudes whilst he struggles through the same. What we understand through all of this is the addiction these people have to their sport and the how impossible if feels for them to replace it.
Director Lucy Walker was responsible for the magnificent documentary Waste Land back in 2010, showing us how artist Vik Muniz affected the lives of a handful of Brazilian rubbish tip collectors. She has an eye for a strong story and offers a rounded insight into a world most of us know nothing about but a connection to the human condition that relates to us all.
★★★½ review by Adam Cook on Letterboxd
Lucy Walker’s The Crash Reel is a moving and inspiring documentary about champion snowboarder and Winter Olympic hopeful, Kevin Pearce, and his attempts at rehabilitation following a life threatening crash that left him in a coma for six days and with serious brain injuries. Employing extensive archival footage and unparalleled access to the family and treatment the film is a touching look at the fragility of life.
Walker continues to demonstrate her versatility as a documentarian as she tackles another strikingly different, and very personal, story. The Crash Reel is a blend of traditional sports documentary chronicling Pearce’s rise to prominence and professional rivalry with snowboarding superstar, Shaun White, as well as a moving family drama as his parents and siblings desperately try and keep him from returning to the slopes.
Although conventional in its execution (employing talking heads and archival footage of extreme sports, particularly those that go wrong) and subject matter (inspiring sporting rehabilitations are nothing new to the documentary genre) Walker’s film still succeeds thanks to the openness of the family and the sympathetic nature of Pearce as a person.
Despite surviving the life threatening accident there is still something tragic about the story as Pearce struggles to come to the realisation that he shouldn’t snowboard again, not without risking killing or paralyzing himself in the process. His sport was his life and he isn’t willing to walk away despite the advice from his concerned doctors and family who fear for his life.
With a great soundtrack and engaging subject, The Crash Reel, continues a fine year in documentary filmmaking.
★★★★ review by justinC on Letterboxd
The Crash Reel is a thought provoking, down right sad documentary of an inspiring olympist snowboarder Kevin Pearce.
through extensive footage you see the effects of his horrific accident that left him in a coma and damn near dead.
From relationship with his family and his girlfriend to his extensive rehabilitation this documentary covers every angle of a persons desire to live his life.
This was beautifully done and had me choked up on several occasions.
★★★★★ review by Nick Kemp on Letterboxd
This was so much more than a documentary on snowboarding - it's full of some very powerful and important life lessons. A really emotional yet inspiring watch.
★★★★ review by Ole Holgersen on Letterboxd
| "It's been said that the brave does not live forever, but the cautious does not live at all" |
The Crash Reel is a heartwarming and thought-provoking documentary about snowboarder Kevin Pearce's fatal crash in 2009, and the following recovery from his brain injury. The best part about this film is not getting to witness Pearce's extraordinary skills and competitive nature, but witnessing his extraordinary family and friends, supporting him through his ups and downs.
It's really an emotional roller coaster, and I did question at times if it went a bit overboard with the drama. It does such a fine job of showing how Kevin's mind changes through the things he experiences though, that in the end, The Crash Reel turns out to be a really solid and entertaining documentary.
In many ways it turns the conventions of this sort of narrative on its head. Usually we expect to follow someone who's heroically conquering their injury and coming back out on top, but this time we instead see the much more difficult (and just as heroic in my opinion, maybe even more) journey to learning to live with one's limitations, and accept that thing will never be the same.
It's life affirming stuff, and one of the best sport documentaries I've seen in a long time. Highly recommended!
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