[#2019oscardeathrace] Free Solo (2018)

Director: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

Cast: Alex Honnold, Tommy Caldwell, Jimmy Chin, Sanni McCandless

100 mins. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Documentary Feature [Pending]

 

I’ll be honest. I had no idea what the term Free Solo meant before I saw this movie.

Free Solo is the documentary covering Alex Honnold’s unprecedented climb of El Capitan Wall in Yosemite. The climb, over 3,000 feet high, was completed without ropes or any safety gear at all, hence the term Free Solo. That means is Alex were to slip or fall, he’s a dead man. A documentary crew followed him on this incredible trek, a dangerous idea adding more stress to the climb.

I’ll put it as simply as I can: Free Solo is one of the most intense and exhilarating experiences I have had in the theater in quite some time. Everything leading up to the big event is shown with such gorgeously captivating cinematography. There were times I felt a little light-headed because you feel like you are up there with Alex. That’s the magic of this cinematic experience. Directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Meru) depict this insane sport and the toll it has on those around the climbers. They took me on the climb with them. I felt like a fly on the wall.

I really liked what time they spent diving into Alex’s childhood leading to his decision to become a climber and, eventually, a free solo climber, but I do wish we got some more of that in the film. It’s my one nitpick because I really wanted to study the mind of these daredevils and what makes them do what they do. The surface is merely scratched in the film, and I would have liked more.

The most centralized relationship in the film is between Alex and girlfriend Sanni, and it’s really nicely detailed. I felt for her as she tried to reach him and make him understand what this sport was doing to her, and it’s a great emotional argument of the film.

Free Solo’s striking visuals and its intense personal story is a powerful combination, making it one of the strongest documentary features of the year. I feel bad for you if you missed this one in IMAX, but seek it out when you can and experience this incredible feat for yourself.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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