A true ‘70s icon's biggest jumps and bigger fall
Johnny Knoxville of Jackass fame--something of a spiritual descendant of Knievel in his insane stunts--serves as a host of sorts here, discussing major points in Knievel's biography before they spin-off into interviews with the people who were there. As enjoyable as Knoxville is to listen to as he fanboys about his hero, it's in the interviews with Knievel's family, friends and contemporaries that the film really comes to life, as his personal life--from his unusual childhood in Montana to his repeated retirements--is truly a "stranger than fiction" tale. From physical assaults to battles with Hell's Angels, from infidelity to financial ruin, there's a bit of everything in this biography, and those around him are truly larger-than-life personalities, and they know how to tell an engaging story.
Boasting a wealth of archival footage from Knievel's biggest stunts, this film ensures there's no way that a viewer leaves without knowing his career inside and out, including his big jumps at Caesar's Palace and Snake River Canyon, as well as his love affair with the media, as he never met a microphone he'd avoid. Footage from interviews across the dial, including great clips with Johnny Carson, reveal a man who bought in on his own press clippings, which makes him quite entertaining (if also somewhat annoying.) Talking to those who followed his lead, including Knoxville, skateboarding legend Tony Hawk, BMX star Mat Hoffman and motocross standout Travis Pastrana, brings the story to the present, and makes it contemporary for those with no memory of the man himself. Director Daniel Junge (A LEGO Brickumentary) also provides plenty of context from the era, to help explain why America embraced a man riding a motorcycle the way they did.
Super stylish and backed by a great era-appropriate soundtrack, Being Evel is consistently entertaining, and manages to be a balanced view of an incredibly flawed man, despite being populated by people who, by and large, are fans or were friends of Knievel (though there are certainly quite a few people, like George Hamilton, who weren't quite as tight with him--resulting in some of the best stories shared.) The bad stuff isn't glossed over in any way, which serves to make the film all the more interesting, as the extreme highs are matched with equal lows, so if you liked Knievel, you can enjoy him being celebrated, or, if you're less enthralled with him, you can see him reap the aftermath of a life lived on the edge. Either way, there's no arguing that his was a life was a story worth hearing and that this film does a good job of telling it.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track is fine for your standard documentary, but when songs like Donovan's "Season of the Witch" and T-rex' "20th Century Boy" come blaring out from this movie, you'd really want to feel the power of all your speakers. Other than that quibble, the sound here is clear and crisp, with all the talking heads easily understood and the mix giving proper priority to the elements. But man, watching the opening titles in surround would have been sweet.
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