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Lucy Walker’s Stunning Documentary “The Crash Reel” is a Masterpiece

July 15, 2013

By John Corrado

The Crash Reel PosterRight from the opening scenes of The Crash Reel, which emerged as one of the best films out of Hot Docs, I immediately knew that the documentary would end up being among my favourites of the year.  I left the theatre completely blown away by the experience.

After gaining universal acclaim on the festival circuit, the stunning film premieres on HBO tonight at 9:00 PM.  Phase 4 Films will also be releasing The Crash Reel in theatres sometime this fall, when Canadian audiences will finally have a chance to catch up with the documentary.

The film opens a few months before the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, as champion snowboarder Kevin Pearce is training to make the team.  But then tragedy strikes when he suffers a dangerous fall, a moment that comes early in the film and could have easily been the end, but is really just the jumping off point for telling his story.  We are taken back in time to see his rise to fame, including his friendship and eventual rivalry with Shaun White which caused him to consistently push forward in training, before witnessing his journey into his new life with a disability.

The story has all the aspects of a great sports movie, charting the rise and literal fall of the celebrated athlete, before showing us his remarkable rise back up again to face the new challenges in his life with a traumatic brain injury.  The love of Kevin Pearce’s friends and family are the driving forces behind his recovery, including the unending support of his brother David, who has Down Syndrome and is a celebrated athlete on the Paralympic circuit.  The verite footage of his family coming together to accept and support the challenges of their brother and son are strikingly intimate and often deeply moving.

Directed by Lucy Walker, who received an Oscar nomination for the equally outstanding Waste Land a few years back, The Crash Reel is an incredibly well crafted film that touches on the dangers of extreme sports while offering a powerful message about self acceptance.  The story is told through a mix of interviews, home videos and newscasts, 232 different sources of footage that have been beautifully edited together into one of the most compelling packages of the year.  The soundtrack offers an excellent mix of music, a collection of perfectly placed songs that add yet another layer of memorability to the film.

The brilliant title of The Crash Reel is justified over a shocking montage of athletes enduring painful injuries in the name of the game, a disturbingly visceral sequence that is impossible not to watch.  The fact that Lucy Walker is able to tie in the questions of safety that come from many of these extreme sports, without distracting from the central story, is another triumphant aspect of the documentary.  This is a story of dreams cut short and learning to live with something that we can’t change, and the film packs an unforgettable emotional punch that adds up to something life affirming in the face of adversity.  This one is guaranteed to be remembered at the end of the year.

There are multiple images and entire scenes that have become engrained in my mind over the last few months, from the amusing footage of Kevin Pearce having a wild party with friends, to him struggling to remember what the doctor told him just a year before.  These are just two of the many moments that stick out in my mind from the perfectly paced 107 minute running time, scenes that show the carefree young man juxtaposed with the caution that he is now forced to take.  And then we reach the final few scenes, an ending that is so powerful and emotionally affecting that I literally haven’t stopped thinking about the words that are said since I saw The Crash Reel back in May.

I had the pleasure of meeting the incredibly talented Lucy Walker after the screening at Hot Docs, and she graciously thanked me when I told her just how much I loved the film.  She has something truly special on her hands with this documentary, a film that has the power to change people and actually make a difference.  Does this sound like hyperbole, the words of a film critic completely in love with a work of art that many people have not even had the chance to see?  I assure you this is not.  Exhilarating, moving and inspirational, The Crash Reel is everything that a great film should be.

And yet I find myself grasping for more ways to describe the experience, because words can only begin to do justice to the sheer power of watching this true story unfold, along with the unforgettable rush of great filmmaking that Lucy Walker has used to bring these people to the screen.  Put simply, The Crash Reel is a masterpiece and one of the best documentaries that I have ever seen.  See this movie.

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