By turns pulse-quickening and contemplative, “The Crash Reel” is a thoroughly winning docu portrait of former pro snowboarder Kevin Pearce, whose 2009 accident while training for the Winter Olympics left him with a traumatic brain injury — and a feverish desire to return to the slopes ASAP. Aided by excellent footage of half-pipe action and the intimate participation of Pearce’s protective family, director Lucy Walker (“Waste Land”) pulls off a spectacular feat of her own, balancing the needs of extreme sports vid and cautionary tale. HBO’s cablecast will gain resonance in the wake of the death of extreme snowmobiler Caleb Moore.
Capturing the candid discussions of Pearce family members, Walker establishes the addictive properties of extreme sports and the ultimate heroism of an athlete who, in deference to his loved ones, has kicked the habit. A brilliantly edited, almost unwatchably brutal montage of ski and snowboard crashes serves to reinforce Pearce’s need to quit. Amazingly, the pic, lingering on the details of Pearce’s incremental progress in a neurocritical care unit, manages to be more inspiring than depressing, helped in part by a soundtrack of suitably extreme rock tunes. Tech credits rule.