Steven Sheehan’s review published on Letterboxd:
You know when a documentary focusing on a subject you have no interest or knowledge about keeps your attention that it has done its job very well. The Crash Reel provides handfuls of food for thought managing to give you an insight into the psyche of the people who test the fragility of life in pursuit of the love for their sport.
Kevin Pearce was one of the two best snowboarders in the world, competing at the very top of the game, locked in constant battle with his rival Shaun White. With the 2010 Winter Olympics looming - Kevin being one of the favourites for the Gold - training was going as planned in Utah. All it took was one slight adjustment, one clip of the board, to send Kevin down off the half pipe unable to break his fall. No arms to protect his face or his neck. Face first into the snow and the start of a whole new life.
As much as this is a documentary about the human spirit and the love of a very genuinely caring supportive family, it is also fascinating look at the fragility of the brain. Something we all take for granted. Something the daredevils who snowboard or motorcross push to the back of the minds, even after multiple broken bones.
It was a painfully slow process for Kevin to regain any former semblance of himself, coming out of his coma unable to move or communicate. From flying up to 40ft in the air, spinning 1080 back onto his feet to struggling to grab onto his mothers hand by his bedside. Two years after the accident and he still suffers from mood swings, memory loss and spasms in his arms, his brain permanently scarred unable to fully recover.
But he's alive and living well. Living, breathing. Eating and waking up each day. Thanks in the main to a family who gave and continue to offer unconditional love and advice to guide him back to a new path in his life. His older brother Adam quit his job to be there everyday for Kevin whilst he was in hospital working on his balance and co-ordination. The close knit family wasn't the same without Kevin and they couldn't of given anymore to bring him back to life.
The love for snowboarding won't die that easily either. Two years on and he is aching to get back on a board to get the feeling back that had driven him, literally, to such heights. His family are distraught. The doctors cannot emphasise enough the dangers he faces if he shocks his brain in any way. But will Kevin listen to his heart of the worries of those around him?
We get a good sense of Kevin the champion before the incident and of course following him on his road to recovery. His friends played a big part in his life and we see him training, celebrating and enjoy life with them on the way up to the summit of the sport. You can see the difference between the two Kevins quite easily.
There are some quite unflinching moments at the heart of the family, painfully discussing their concerns with Kevin and you sense the toll it has taken on all of them. You have to really appreciate the openness they allowed to be shown on screen, moments of intimacy that really do touch a nerve.
The focus enlarges onto other snowboarders and skiers who have suffered TBI's (traumatic brain injuries), Kevin meeting one or two still in denial or unable to remember himself being in a similar condition. Trevor Rhuda being one, having somehow suffered two such trauma's. It provides Kevin with inspiration that he can affect other peoples lives, help them change their attitudes whilst he struggles through the same. What we understand through all of this is the addiction these people have to their sport and the how impossible if feels for them to replace it.
Director Lucy Walker was responsible for the magnificent documentary Waste Land back in 2010, showing us how artist Vik Muniz affected the lives of a handful of Brazilian rubbish tip collectors. She has an eye for a strong story and offers a rounded insight into a world most of us know nothing about but a connection to the human condition that relates to us all.