Compiled from untold hours of found footage, Lucy Walker’s documentary traces professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce’s recovery from the traumatic brain injury that nearly ended both his career and his life. The director has assembled Pearce’s history—turning pro at 13 despite being overshadowed by an older brother with similar aspirations; his rivalry with and triumph over champion Shaun White—into a smooth and continuous flow.
Too smooth, in fact. With its high-energy music and graffiti-style graphics, The Crash Reel plays like the slick promos NBC uses to repackage every Olympian’s story into a pat narrative. Although there are references to, say, how Pearce’s injury has changed his personality for the worse, there’s nothing to blemish the upward curve of his recovery, even with his desire to resume snowboarding prompting stern warnings from doctors and tears from his family. Walker, a two-time Oscar nominee (and possible three-time, now that this film has made the Academy’s shortlist), tweaks emotions successfully enough, but she doesn’t ask hard questions, or even interesting ones.
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