Operating on several levels, this engaging documentary holds our attention with eye-opening information and pulse-quickening action, but what makes it unmissable is its emotional kick. Filmmaker Lucy Walker (Waste Land) is terrific at getting to the human core of a story, but she also finds a lot more to say as she profiles extreme snowboarder Kevin Pearce.
Kevin was the champion in his sport when, less than three months before the 2010 Winter Olympics, he was seriously injured while practicing in Utah. His traumatic brain injury was so severe that his survival was considered a miracle. Through exhausting physical rehabilitation, he eventually reached the point where he felt that he was ready to hit the slopes again. But his family had carefully nursed him through two years of recovery, and they knew something he seemed reluctant to admit: that another brain injury could kill him.
Walker sticks closely with Kevin to recount these remarkable events, providing the back-story through home movies and amazing footage of Kevin's various face-offs against rival Shaun White, his childhood pal and member of a pack of snowboarders who call themselves "Frends". The story of his injury and recovery is narrated with remarkable detail by Kevin, his whole family and all of the Frends. And what becomes clear is that Kevin's stubborn desire to compete again is actually a symptom of his injury. If he can see that fact, he may be able to avoid the tragedies of other competitors who should never have returned to the snow.
As the film delves into the details of brain injury, it sometimes threatens to get too scientific. But these issues have major ramifications for a new sport that still hasn't properly sorted out safety and insurance issues. Thankfully, Walker adds thrilling snowboard sequences in spectacular mountain settings while continually returning to the much more personal story of the Pearce family, and most intriguingly Kevin's close relationship with his younger brother David, who has Down's Syndrome. Watching them inadvertently teach each other about their mental issues is deeply moving.
Run time: 108 mins
In Theaters: Friday 4th October 2013
Distributed by: Phase 4 Films
Production compaines: Tree Tree Tree Productions
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Fresh: 44 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 8.2 / 10
Director: Lucy Walker
Producer: Julian Cautherley, Lucy Walker
Screenwriter: Pedro Kos, Lucy Walker
Starring: Kevin Pearce as Himself, Shaun White as Himself, Scotty Lago as Himself, Jake Burton as Himself, Mason Aguirre as Himself, Danny Davis as Himself, Jack Mitrani as Himself
Also starring: Sarah Burke