Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Crash Reel Movie Review

The documentary The Crash Reel, directed by Lucy Walker and written by Walker and Pedro Kos, could have been an exposé on the hazards of extreme sports. It could have attempted to demystify and explain what causes certain people to engage in such sports and come back to it over and over even after sustaining terrifying and sometimes life-threatening injuries. But her movie has a personal touch and doesn’t try to do anything but show on participant, his accident, and his family’s reaction.


In the final weeks leading up to the 2010 Winter Olympics, champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury in a bad fall on a half-pipe run. Forget the Vancouver games, he’d be lucky to remember who he was or even walk again. But then after two years of recovery and rehab he was ready to get back on a board. He did so despite the express wishes of his family and the advice of his doctors who told him that another head injury, even fairly mild, could paralyze or kill him. Up to that point we’ve really only seen and heard about his own accident, but immediately following we’re treated to a montage of devastating skiing, snowboarding, motorbiking, and snowmobiling accidents along with testimonials by all of Kevin’s snowboarding friends of the number of broken bones and concussions they’ve endured. The picture they paint is of a sport that doesn’t come without incident and accident. And they all keep getting up on the board again.

It seems what separates someone like Kevin or Shaun White, his chief competitive rival, from average, or even excellent though not world class, snowboarders is exactly that drive that gets them back on the slopes even after a broken back or a misaligned pelvis. His family practically begs him in a group discussion not to snowboard again, but he attempts to explain how he feels when he’s on a board and no one gets it. There is no explanation. There’s just a feeling and reasoning with those feelings proves extremely difficult.

Walker does include a few bones for the contingent who feel these sports have gone too far. There is some mention of the increasing height of the half-pipe wall which now reaches twenty-two feet meaning a rider falls upwards of forty feet in a worst case scenario. And some talk about the fact that sponsors and promoters eat it up when someone gets hurt because that’s what the spectators are hoping for. But at its heart this isn’t an issue-oriented documentary. Yes, it spends some time on Sarah Burke, who died in early 2012 from a half-pipe skiing accident (coincidentally and eerily, she fell in the same place on the same pipe as Kevin). Walker spends more time with Kevin’s friends, who talk about his competitive drive, and his family, who talk about love and wanting him to be safe.

This is a document of a family and of an individual who, though he may never compete again, will always be the one who comes out the other side of his experiences more focused and more determined, especially if there was some element of failure. That is a human story and one of the film’s biggest selling points.

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