Waiting for Lightning: Film Review

J. Grant Brittain/Samuel Goldwyn Films
This not-so-timely documentary about skateboarder Danny Way's 2005 jump over the Great Wall of China suffers from the absence of its central figure.

Jacob Rosenberg's documentary explores the life and career of skateboarder Danny Way and his famed 2005 jump over the Great Wall of China.

Resembling a feature-length version of the human interest backstories that have lately come to dominate television sports coverage, Waiting for Lightning details the life and career of famed skateboarder Danny Way. Jacob Rosenberg’s essentially promotional documentary centers on his famed 2005 jump over the Great Wall of China, making its current release not exactly timely.

Way is clearly a man willing to let his daring athletic feats do the talking for him, since he’s a virtual non-entity in this film celebrating his own accomplishments. Not heard from except in occasional voiceovers and archival news segments, he remains a cipher whose motivations are explained via on-camera testimony by friends, colleagues and such family members as his mother Mary and his brother Damon, whose company, DC Shoes, is one of the film’s presenters.

As the film makes clear via interviews and awkward reenactments, Way had a troubled early life. His father died during a short stint in jail, followed by his mother lapsing into drug and alcohol addiction. His stepfather, who instilled his love for skateboarding, divorced his mother. His chief mentor, Mike Ternasky, died in a car accident. And he suffered a devastating neck injury that nearly ended his career.

But as we learn, none of that stopped Way from engaging in the most dangerous of stunts, or “glariness,” as it’s often described. He once jumped out of a helicopter onto a ramp, and of course, engaged in the jump that is the film’s centerpiece.

The extensive preparations for the jump, which takes up a good chunk of the film’s running time, included wrestling with Chinese authorities and engaging in a test run on a shakily built ramp that resulted in him crashing and being hospitalized for his injuries.

Little of this will be of much interest to all but the most avid skateboarding enthusiasts, whose love for the sport has resulted in a series of similarly themed docs, including the recent, far more incisive Bone’s Brigade: An Autobiography. But the film certainly presents Way’s high-flying escapades in all their thrilling glory, even if they might prove dangerous for youngsters looking to emulate his feats.

Eventually, though, Waiting For Lightning suffers greatly from the absence of Way himself. Despite the extensive commentary from such ubiquitous figures as fellow boarder Tony Hawk and surfer Laird Hamilton, it never succeeds in providing much insight into his enigmatic personality.

Production: Bandito Brothers.

Director: Jacob Rosenberg.

Screenwriter: Bret Anthony Johnson.

Producers: Max Leitman, Darryl Franklin, Hana Ripperger-Suhler.

Executive producers: Mouse McCoy, Scott Waugh, Ray Ibe, Michael Mailis, Jay Pollak.

Director of photography: Michael Svitak.

Editor: Carol Martori.

Composer: Nathan Furst.

Rated PG-13, 96 min.