Judging by how seared into Eddie Braun's young imagination Evel Knievel's 1974 attempt to rocket across an Idaho canyon was, this film could leave a similarly lasting impression on viewers today.
Disney seems to be banking on that with Stuntman, a documentary built around Braun's three-and-a-half-year odyssey to complete Knievel's daredevil stunt 40 years later. Yet the actual rocket launch in September 2016, when Braun was 54, passed without quite as much glory as the Knievel original, partially because no major network was willing to broadcast the potentially fatal event live.
If you Google "Snake River jump" today, most of the results are about Knievel's, not Braun's, attempt.
The film does a great job of showing how the idea began to seem more and more foolhardy over time, especially when a first test rocket failed to launch. Eddie's struggle to find a sponsor to help finance the venture provides an interesting sequence in the film where he schmoozes executives at a racetrack.
Stuntman is also successful at building up suspense around the day of the launch, though anyone who was paying attention to the event already knows how it ended. Eddie is also a pleasant enough protagonist, but he doesn't open up quite as much as you might hope.
As he fights back tears on his way to the rocket on launch day, viewers are reminded of this film's core debility: it's never really able to answer the key question of what motivates this man to do this death-defying job. He talks about paying the bills; his colleagues mention his unique bravado; and he says he wants to enjoy the "exhilaration" ("thrill" is "too cheap" a word, he notes). But a person who risks his life as a day job, beyond the singular rocket event and despite a loving family at home, is a special kind of person.
It would have been fascinating to dig deeper into what really makes this stuntman tick.
Read the full review at Common Sense Media.