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Indie Snapshot: The Crash Reel

by Aly Semigran December 13, 2013 5:50 am
Indie Snapshot: <i>The Crash Reel</i>

To simply label The Crash Reel as a sports documentary doesn't do it proper justice. Director Lucy Walker's chronicle of the events that led to snowboarder Kevin Pearce's devastating head injury prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics, and the dramatic turn his life took afterwards is so much more than that.

The documentary, which is among this year's shortlist of Oscar contenders, is a story of family (here, the compassionate, loving Pearce clan); it is a story of what happens when someone's dreams are dashed and must learn to start new; it is a damning look into the world of extreme sports and the dangers its athletes face; it is a startling insight to those who suffer from traumatic brain injuries; and, yes, it is a thrilling underdog sports story, too.

The Crash Reel covers Kevin's evolution into an unbelievably talented snowboarder who was nipping at the heels of Shaun White (who isn't portrayed in the most favorable light here, as one of his colleagues and former pals describes him as not much more than "a machine…with a goal to win") and Olympic glory. But then it all goes horribly, terrifyingly wrong in one instant when, on a practice run, he suffers a traumatic brain injury that not only leaves him in the hospital for months, but also leaves the old Kevin behind forever. The Crash Reel is never preachy, but if there was ever a cautionary tale for invincible-minded kids out there, this is it. Life can change in an instant: it did for Kevin Pearce.

It's painful watching Kevin go through countless medical procedures over the years and the very slow realization that, despite his unquenchable desire to professionally snowboard again, it is a dream he simply must let go of. But what makes it so difficult to watch how much of it we see through the eyes of his incredibly supportive family and friends. The Pearce family (a group of people who you'll come to like so much over the hour-and-45-minute running time that you'll truly miss them when it's over) are practically the embodiment of love and support and you ache for them as much as you do Kevin.

The Crash Reel taps into the almost impenetrable, unfathomable and frustratingly stubborn psyche of athletes, particularly young ones. Kevin's injury, which nearly ended his life, doesn't stop him from wanting to get back in action as soon as possible, despite the pleas from his friends, family and doctors not to. It takes years for Kevin to come to terms with the fact that he will never be the athlete he was once. Athletes like Kevin and the late freestyle skier Sarah Burke, whose tragic death is covered in the film, did what they loved and stopped at nothing to be the best at it.

After seeing this movie -- particularly so close to the 2014 Winter Games -- you'll be haunted by certain thoughts and questions: is the well-being of athletes put in last place behind sponsorships and media frenzies? Are these sports getting to be too dangerous? There's another movie begging to be made about the long-term mental and physical effects of competitive sports, as well as the politics of that world (extreme sports athletes have a stunning lack of health insurance coverage) since The Crash Reel only begins to scratch the surface of those topics.

But, really, the most amazing thing about The Crash Reel is that even though it covers a huge portion of Kevin's young life (he is currently 26), you get the distinct feeling this is only one chapter in many. Kevin may no longer be a professional snowboarder, but he's an underdog you'll keep rooting for in life.

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