Who would’ve expected one of the most important movies of the year to come swooping into theatres during the final weeks of 2013? Lucky Canadians are currently able to catch Lucy Walker’s The Crash Reel at Toronto’s TIFF Bell Lightbox – and I highly suggest they do.
The documentary addresses a number of issues worth talking about, but it all begins with the stellar success of snowboarder Kevin Pearce. Pearce was garnering acclaim for his expertise on the snowy slopes and becoming a front runner for the gold medal in the Vancouver Winter Olympics. However, life dealt Pearce a new hand of cards after an alarmingly life shattering crash during training.
Through mountains of footage, we watch Pearce’s rise to fame, his critical plummet, his cautious recovery, as well as his slow realization on how to cope with this new brain injury.
The Crash Reel is montage-heavy; at least for the first two thirds. It may not be everyone’s preferred way of watching a story take shape, but it fits the nature of Walker’s film. It also fits the essence of how the doc is structured as a hybrid of a usual doc format and a sports video.
Kevin Pearce’s story in The Crash Reel is about progression and learning how to regain fluency. Pearce’s accident could’ve cost him his life, instead it left him in a critical state but, Kevin’s rapidity to build his endurance is mightily impressive and, before we know it, his logic and motors skills are developing. Some may say Walker has a fantastic editor aboard her doc, but the film does a terrific job at showing us quickly how strong Pearce is as an individual. We believe in his process to become “back to normal”.
His kindly articulate brother David, who lives with Down Syndrome, is a marvel as well. The Pearce household collectively assist Kevin through the incident, but David’s compassion is enough to aid a small town. Kevin and David’s disabilities compliment each other, which makes it all the more saddening to see David beg his rattled brother to take precautions and not snowboard again.
When Walker moves into the life of a post-accident Kevin, The Crash Reel touches upon sport safety regulations and how it’s supremely important to wear a helmet. Even with head protection, however, the risk for injury still sits at a scary level.
There’s mention of how the half pipes have gradually gotten steeper to perhaps intrigue audiences more and make the extreme games even more “extreme”. But, the film proposes, “is it all really worth it if the consequences are even more “extreme” themselves?”
All the while these discussions are happening, Walker never let’s her eye off the film’s main focus. Kevin Pearce’s extraordinary coming-of-age is what steers Walker’s work. Because Walker never takes her eye off the ball, she can comfortably veer off the track to inform about other topics. As long as Kevin is still somewhat involved in what’s going on, the doc never feels scattershot.
The only time the film finds itself in uncertain waters is when The Crash Reel sets its sights on the relationship/rivalry between Shaun White and Pearce. It’s an interesting dynamic incorporating two talents who became head butting competitors as soon as Kevin showed he was a threat on the courses.
We have interviews with White that seem nice at first. However, his answers and his alleged honesty is intercut with the most truthful snowboarders you’ll ever meet. These friends of Kevin state that what made White and Pearce different was that Kevin showed more friendly notions while White was always in a strategic, competitive mode. It’s a risky move on Walker’s part that makes for fascinating results, but meanwhile, the rest of White’s interviews feel a bit disingenuous. I’m not too sure if that was the effect Walker was going for and I’m not too sure how White is going to feel about this documentary.
The rest of us, however, are enthralled with this fantastic film. It’s an awesomely constructed documentary perfectly showcasing how strong the human spirit can be. It’s so strong in fact, that it can bring out the stubbornness in us because we’re so hard wired to keep fighting for what we want in life.
This inspiring documentary is the third doc I’ve seen this year from HBO Documentaries. The other two being Alex Winter’s Downloaded and Marta Cunningham’s Valentine Road. Keeping up with the sports theme, that’s what bowlers would call a “turkey”, kids.