Overview: The Crash Reel chronicles snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s road to recovery after a traumatic head injury with grace and a touching focus on family. Phase 4 Films; 2013; 109 minutes.
Not Just Another Sports Documentary: In 2009, while training for the Olympics, snowboarder Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury after a horrific crash on the slopes. The Crash Reel tells his story beautifully because director Lucy Walker refuses to shy away from the hard stuff. The film shows Pearce’s triumphs, along with his downfalls and lapses in judgement. With slick editing and plenty of shots of impressive snowboarding tricks, it would be easy to write this off as just another sports documentary, but thanks to refreshing honesty in its portrayal of real hardships, this film is worth remembering.
Kevin’s Recovery: After his injury, Pearce spent months in the hospital, learning to function again. Because we see his vacant stares early in the film, seeing Pearce up and talking later feels like a miracle. Pearce, a classic daredevil, is determined to get back on the slopes after his injury, despite the fact that even a slight bump on the head could cause another traumatic injury. As Pearce argues that he’s ready to be an athlete again, his family tries to help him understand how dangerous the idea is. David, Pearce’s brother who has Down syndrome, is the unexpected star of the film. He is refreshingly candid. He admits that he’s always had trouble accepting the way the he is, that there are days he doesn’t want to live, and that he has to fight to be happy. It is his honesty that seems to finally connect with Pearce. “I don’t want you to die,” David tells him during an emotional family argument about snowboarding. It’s never easy, and Pearce often lashes out even when it’s clear to viewers that his family has only his best interest in mind, but it’s all real, all genuine.
One Slight Quibble: Before his injury, Pearce’s professional rival was the famous Shaun White. In interviews, White seems nice enough, but Pearce and his friends paint him as a something of a douche and reveal that there is clearly still some bitterness between the two. One of the film’s only downfalls is that this bitterness is never properly explored. It’s interesting and the story between White and Pearce is left relatively untold.
Final Thoughts: The Crash Reel isn’t about getting hurt, getting back up, and winning despite the odds. This isn’t a feel-good sports movie, and it never pretends to be. The Crash Reel is about learning to cope with change, understanding the importance of family, and knowing when enough has to be enough. It’s about adapting and clinging tight to what matters in life. In the end, Pearce does find some peace, but he admits that it’s an ongoing battle. The final moments are as authentic, important, and undeniably good as the film as a whole.