Review: ‘Chasing Niagara’ Is A Breathtaking Reflection On Mortality
Despite the Red Bull heavy product pedaling, ‘Chasing Niagara’ delivers a gripping tale of one man’s quest to kayak down Niagara Falls.
‘Chasing Niagara’ is hands down one of the most visually extreme, breathtaking and thought-provoking documentaries of 2016. The audience is transported to majestic rivers across the globe as a young whitewater and waterfall kayaker and his team of his pro-level cohorts embark on a three-year journey to prepare for a potentially fatal trip down the king of all waterfalls, the Niagara Falls.
The professional deluge jockey Rafa Ortiz is joined by professional kayaker, teammate and documentary director Rush Sturges as they test the extreme vertical-limits of their kayaking skills from the rainforest rivers of Mexico to the towering waterfalls of the U.S. Northwest. On their journey the young team of extreme athletes trudge through swaths of breathtaking natural scenery and navigate deadly rapids and vertical drops. When on the river, any moment could be someone’s last… and they prove it.
Documentary Score – 4
‘Chasing Niagara’ is a virtually flawless documentary film. It has all of the right ingredients. The film begins with an intense and gripping scene which ends with a cliffhanger, quickly setting the extreme tone and reeling the audience in tight. The film runs through the history of former attempts made by daredevils to survive a trip down the fatal Niagara Falls. The cinematography juxtaposes the serenity and grandness of the assorted rivers and forested surroundings against the turbulent and intense rigor of the riders as they battle the battering whitewater rapids and jagged rocky hazards.
‘Chasing Niagara’ is truly defined by its highly skilled cast of professional kayakers with leads Rafa Ortiz, director Rush Sturges and Evan Garcia and a phenomenal support team including Gerd Serrasolses, Aniol Serrasolses, Tyler Bradt, Mark LeBlanc and Blake Mahoney. Equally as powerful as the raging Rapids they traverse, the team transcends fraternity by forging a indestructable brotherhood where no man is ever left behind. The expert crew is tested by the elements and things get especially dicey when one of the teammates finds himself teetering on the brink of life and death. There is no drug-filled colloquy here. Pure and simple, ‘Chasing Niagara’ is a factual and fascinating documentary that explores mankind’s drive to achieve greater extremes, and in doing so test our mortality as humans.
Again, ‘Chasing Niagara’ is virtually flawless… virtually. There are however two aspects that some would consider to be flaws. The first is the depth of the exploration into the personality and real-life chemistry between the cast of athletes. While the film does capture the strong camaraderie between the cast, it’s very polished and scripted. It would have been nice to depart from the tight structure to see what the inner-dynamics of the extreme athletes would actually be. While that doesn’t detract from the film, I think it would have added more depth to the character development, especially as Rafa Ortiz and his friends marinate on the thought of a trip down Niagara Falls.
The second so-called flaw seems to be more of trend within the documentary genre as of recent, and that is the commercial-like quality of the presentation. While ‘Chasing Niagara’ isolates the shameless plugging to the branded clothes, helmets, and kayaks seen throughout the film, it still does at times make those logos prominent in painfully commercial fashion. At the same time, I wouldn’t expect much else from the production company, Red Bull Media House. On the whole however, this documentary swells with style, visual bliss and riveting content.
Watch the official trailer for ‘Chasing Niagara’ below.
- Documentary Score
'Chasing Niagara' follows the life of pro kayaker Rafa Ortiz as he embarks on a three-year journey in preparation to paddle over the Niagara Falls, and in doing so sets in motion an incredible series of events that evolves into something far more extreme than he ever imagined. Although the film has is overt marketing moments, they are far and wide offset by the stunning cinematography and highly watchable subject matter. This is documentary has a wider appeal than most, and definitely packs in a heap of action.
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