Arriving amid debates about brain injuries in organized sports, Oscar-nominated documentarian Lucy Walker’s The Crash Reel is a timely profile of professional snowboarder Kevin Pearce, whose career was cut short by a calamitous fall on the same half-pipe that killed fellow Olympic hopeful Sarah Burke.
The Crash Reel movingly captures the athlete’s difficult acceptance of the fact that he can no longer practice the sport that made him a world champion. Pearce was a contender for a gold medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics when he was knocked unconscious by a fall.
“You need to be prepared for the Kevin who comes back not to be the same Kevin,” his father recalls being told. A shot of a 22-year-old Pearce recovering in the hospital shows him in a neck brace, his eyes unfocused and his mouth involuntarily smiling.
Once he’s better, Pearce visits a catatonic-looking college student just out of brain surgery after a snowboarding accident. “You stay positive, all right?” encourages Pearce, sincerely, then literally pivots on his heel and insists to his mom, nearly in tears, “I wasn’t like that, I wasn’t like that.”
But fear doesn’t allay frustration — a fact the film depicts with sensitivity, even when Pearce goes against medical advice and competes again, only to discover his injured brain and damaged eyes prevent him from doing even simple tricks on a snowboard. Walker never has Pearce explain why he wants to return the lifts, and he never has to. The heights speak for themselves.