The Crash Reel
Film Title: The Crash Reel
Director: Lucy Walker
Starring: Kevin Pearce, Shaun White
Running Time: 108 min
In 2008, 20-year-old snowboarder Kevin Pearce claimed back-to-back victories in the annual Arctic Challenge and the Swatch World Tour Championship. By 2009, just as the sport was changing from a cool subculture into a multinational enterprise, it seemed certain that Kevin would eclipse Olympian Shawn White. Sadly, that year Pearce was critically injured. The Crash Reel charts his attempts to overcome a brain injury and return to the sport against the wishes of his adoring family.
Documentarian Lucy Walker is an erratic, if formidable talent. The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom, her 2011 Oscar-nominated short, was a delightful delicacy; Countdown to Zero, Walker’s blustering wrong-headed take on nuclear proliferation, was a filmed demonstration of Pynchon’s First Law: “If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.”
The Crash Reel, conversely, is cunning and frustrating on purpose. At its best, it’s a very moving tribute to close familial and community bonds. The Pearce clan are lovely people and charming company; the snowboarding sub-culture is explored and found to contain mostly good-natured and appealing youngsters. The soundtrack (Stars of the Lid, Crystal Castles) is exemplary and emotive.
But with no miraculous recovery to fall back on, the story simply has nowhere to go. And that’s precisely the point. This is an anti-sports movie, a hard-learned truth that one doesn’t necessarily come back from every knock. It bravely flies against everything we expect from the sub-genre. Yet, in doing so (and this likely speaks more about the viewer than the quality of the material), it fails to provide an entirely satisfactory narrative.
It’s not just that the film refuses to conform to a Cinderella-shaped shape. It also shies away from the duties required of a full-blown campaigning documentary. Kevin’s dad – the celebrated Kilkenny-born glassblower Simon Pearce – does mention the rapidly increasing heights of today’s half-pipes. Title sponsors loom ominously over every event. Death and brain injury, by the final credits, are established as normal, expected snowboarding risks.
We want somebody like Michael Moore to pop up and start door-stepping corporate sponsor types. It doesn’t happen. We’re left, instead, with a sour taste and a great deal to ponder.