Part sports doc, part drama, part character study, The Crash Reel is one of the most exciting documentaries of 2013. It’s thrilling, tragic and deeply moving, and is a real cacophony of everything you’d want and expect from an established filmmaker like Lucy Walker- it’s her best film yet.
In basic terms, The Crash Reel tells the story of Kevin Pearce, former Snowboarding superstar who has a near fatal snowboarding accident that results in a traumatic head injury. The film follows Kevin throughout his recovery, and then ultimately explores the emotional effect that Kevin’s steely determination to continue snowboarding after his recovery has on his family and friends. It really is a complex situation, and director Lucy Walker handles the material skilfully.
Clearly an emotional subject for all involved, she handles the material sensitively, yet doesn’t shy away from glorifying the very sport that lead to Kevin’s accident. The scenes of Kevin competing in his heyday are exciting to watch even for those who don’t know anything about the sport, and Walker even includes some almost dance-like sequences being seemingly composed purely for the film, and the audience very quickly comes to understand why Kevin has such love for the game, and why he continued to push the limits until it nearly cost him is life.
Where Walker’s previous films often have a clear political agenda, the joy of this documentary lies in Walker taking a step back from her subjects and allowing them space to talk about their experiences. She doesn’t apply judgement to anybody, instead allowing the audience to form their own opinions of the situation. Perhaps the most interesting interviewee is Shaun White, Kevin’s former arch rival (he and Kevin have a relationship so similar to Senna and Alain Prost that it’s near impossible to avoid the comparison).
The film is as much about their rivalry as it is about snowboarding, and the dynamic of their relationship is sometimes touching, and at times unbearably catty- either way, it’s a thrill to watch. The footage included in the film contains a lot of the Pearce family’s personal videos, as well as footage shot my Kevin himself and his friends before his trauma; it’s is gold dust in narrative terms, because it allows the audience to see the real transformation in Kevin’s character, first as a baby (incredible footage on Kevin as a small baby trying to climb a table as his mother warns ‘That’s Kevin’s problem, he just doesn’t know when to give up’ couldn’t have been any more prophetic if it had been written in a script) then a slightly arrogant but funny teenager living his dream, to an angry, confused but determined trauma victim, and then through to a compassionate, caring man.
The Crash Reel is an emotional, multi-layered documentary that deserves praise, not only for its sensitive handling of the material but also for the care and craft that went in to forming it. Superb.
This review was written for The Fan Carpet