Overview: Freeride mountain biking star athlete Cam Zink explores the physical and emotional travails of being one of the world’s best cyclists on the internet and world stage. LookAlive Productions; 2015; Not Rated; 75 minutes.
High Octane Testimony: In director Ryan Cleek’s well-researched and exhaustive homage to extreme sports star Cam Zink, Reach for the Sky manages to blend original, behind the scenes footage with interviews featuring those close to Zink in a film that is comprehensively entertaining and viscerally thrilling. While Cleek offers very little in the way of making his chosen narrative subjectively compelling to those otherwise disengaged from the extreme sports world, he thematically interweaves moments of melodramatic catharsis into Zink’s story, making it a sports documentary sure to appease those more familiar with its rough and tumble world. There are moments when the footage featured of Zink engaged in death-defying acts of high-octane stunt work mirrors that of his predecessors in the field; this earns Cleek’s film the very special status of recording the life’s work of the next generation’s successor to the likes of Evel Knievel and Matt Hoffman.
Humble But Bold: Perhaps the most compelling aspect of Zink’s story – as it wends its way between the film’s two benchmark events at the 2013 and 2014 Red Bull Rampage campaigns in Virgin, Utah – comes in the reserved manner of Cleek’s star. Throughout the film, Zink appears simultaneously humbled and emboldened by his continued and past successes in the freeriding world but never fails to let his debts to his family and friends go unnoticed. Serving as the director of Zink’s life story, Cleek makes a capable attempt at exploring some of the threats to his chosen subject’s general health and well being, both mentally and physically. And he manages to elicit some genuinely personal first-hand accounts from his cast of talking head witnesses to Zink’s inherent abilities. It would be easy to fault this film for falling into easy storytelling traps, but such critical digression would fail to deliver an analysis of the film’s greater strengths. Through Zink’s friends and family, the camaraderie and love for life is apparent; the film truly shines as another sports story of the triumph of the human spirit and will to succeed in the face of adversity.
Bruises And All: Even when the film struggles to engage its viewer in a story universally coherent and appealing, Cleek’s appreciation for the strides Zink has made in freeride mountain biking makes the story personally engaging and dramatically cathartic. Despite a few bruises, scrapes, and discrepancies in the making of what is an overtly melodramatic take on an essentially uncomplicated story, Reach for the Sky still manages to pick itself back up and keep going no matter what the odds might be. In short, Zink might not be the most compelling, fully fleshed out character, but through Cleek’s perspective, the film becomes about far more than mere extreme stunt work.
Overall: Zink might not always prove to be the most original documentary subject, but Reach for the Sky should offer those interested in his real life sports story plenty to appreciate.